Sneak Peek at Historical Society’s ‘Painting Cohasset’ Exhibit

By Maria Allen | Photography by Jack Foley

Artists have long flocked to the town of Cohasset to paint its rocky coastline, tranquil harbors and sandy beaches. The Cohasset Historical Society’s new summer art exhibit, “Painting Cohasset: 90 Summers,” offers a rare look at a selection of noteworthy fine art pieces that depict the local landscape as it appeared many years ago.

Known as a seaside summer resort in the mid-19th century, Cohasset was a favored escape for city dwellers craving a breath of fresh ocean air. The historical society’s exhibit will feature paintings created by mid-19th to early 20th century artists who spent summer days painting summertime scenes. While some of the oils and watercolors on display come from the historical society’s collection, many have been loaned from art galleries and private collectors.

The list of artists featured in the exhibition includes people like Winckworth Allan Gay (1821-1910) who resided in Hingham and became one of the first Americans to espouse the Barbizon style of landscape painting; Robert Swain Gifford (1840-1905) who was born on one of the Elizabeth Islands off the coast of Massachusetts and won a gold medal at the 1876 Centennial Exposition of Philadelphia; and MacIvor Reddie (1899-1966), a charter member and organizer of the South Shore Art Center located in Cohasset.

“We are very excited about this show,” says executive director Lynne DeGiacomo. “Visitors will have the opportunity to see some wonderful paintings that are not usually accessible to the public.”

Here’s a sneak peek at a few of the historical paintings that will be part of the summer exhibit.

“Whitehead, Cohasset MA”

Artist: Samuel Griggs Whitehead

On loan from Blue Heron Fine Art in Cohasset, this oil-on-canvas painting is signed in the lower left-hand corner and dated 1875.  The painting is by the American artist Samuel W. Griggs (1827-1898), who like many artists of his day traveled extensively throughout New England painting beautiful landscapes. This particular image depicts a farmer harvesting salt marsh hay off the tidal flats. In the distance, smoke can be seen rising from the chimney of a coastal home.

“Sandy Beach, Cohasset, Massachusetts”

Artist: William Van De Velde Bonfield

On loan from a private collector, this image of Cohasset’s Sandy Beach is by American artist William Van de Velde Bonfield (1834-1885), son of the artist George Robert Bonfield. The artist worked mainly in New Jersey and in southeastern Pennsylvania, exhibiting at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. He is known best for his quaint winter scenes of people sleighing, houses and barns and houses dusted in snow. This delicate depiction of Sandy Beach features wind-swept trees and tiny sailboats on the horizon.

“First Black Rock House”

Artist: Believed to be the work of Levi N Bates

This unsigned painting depicts the Captain Nathaniel Nichols cottage on Jerusalem Road, which was later known as the 1st Black Rock House. The artist’s perspective looks down on the ocean, with Black Rock Beach and Green Hill in the background. This painting is one of two paintings in the historical society’s collection that depict a similar perspective and subject matter. It is likely that they were created on the same summer afternoon by members of a painting class.

Note: The house depicted in the painting was built by Captain Nathaniel Nichols in 1757, who died soon thereafter. His son Nathaniel resided in the home with his wife, Zebiah Bates. After his death, his widow opened the house for visiting fishermen and it was known as Black Rock House. The building was later owned by innkeeper Horatio Nelson Bent and called Bent’s Cottage. It was demolished circa 1909.

“Brush Island and the Chinese House”

Artist: Unknown

Part of the Cohasset Historical Society’s art collection, this unsigned seascape depicts the rocky islet just east of Sandy Beach known as Brush Island and a small house that no longer exists. It is thought to have been built by Edward Cunningham, a summer resident of Cohasset. It is believed that the house was burned down by bootleggers during Prohibition circa 1930. Stone and cement foundation remnants can be seen on the central part of the island today. The granite ledge is now a nesting place for large numbers of gulls and is one of the famous “Cohasset Rocks” that was feared by seafarers during the age of sail.

“View of Harbor Entrance, Cohasset”

Artist: Frank Henry Shapleigh

Featuring a view over Bassing Beach, the entrance to the harbor and Whitehead Point, this painting is one of a series of Cohasset landscapes painted by Frank Henry Shapleigh (1842-1906). It shows what the harbor entrance looked like before the Great Gale of 1898 washed away four acres of Bassing Beach. Shapleigh studied in Paris and returned to Boston and later married Mary A., daughter of Ezekiel B. and Mary (Pratt) Studley of Cohasset on October 19, 1870. The couple resided in Crawford Notch, New Hampshire where Shapleigh painted numerous White Mountain scenes. Visiting Cohasset in the summertime, he would take long walks along the shore and painted a series of Cohasset seascapes and landscapes.

“The Cedars”

Artist: Frank Weston Benson

An American artist from Salem, Massachusetts, Fank Weston Benson (1862-1951) is known for his realistic portraits, American Impressionist paintings, watercolors and etchings. He began his career painting portraits of distinguished families and murals for the Library of Congress. Some of his best-known paintings depict his daughters at Benson’s summer home, Wooster Farm, on the island of North Haven in Maine. Benson enjoyed traveling to Cohasset and coot shooting along the coast with his friends. “The Cedars” is one of the many landscape paintings he produced while visiting the South Shore.

Part of Cohasset Historical Society’s 90th anniversary celebrations, “Painting Cohasset: 90 Summers” will run from today, June 21, through September 21. The exhibit will be held at the Pratt Building, located at106 South Main St., Cohasset, which is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and every other Saturday during the summer from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Entrance to the exhibit will be free for Cohasset Historical Society members and $5 for non-members. The society will be hosting an opening reception on the evening of June 23, which will be free for members and $25 per person for non-members. More info


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