Rockwell Kent

b. 1882, American; d. 1971
Berkshire Hills, 1909.
Oil on canvas, 38 ½ x 44 ½ in.

Rockwell Kent, Berkshire Hills, 1909. Oil on canvas, 38 ½ x 44 ½ in. Museum purchase, Gift of purchase funds provided by Paul Neely, Class of 1968, and Karl E. Weston Memorial Fund, M.2018.7.

In 1909, Rockwell Kent resided in the Berkshires and traveled daily to Pittsfield, Massachusetts. On this journey he would have encountered the landscape presented in Berkshire Hills, likely a view looking north toward Mt. Greylock and Saddle Ball Mountain. Dramatic light effects and subtle gradations of color are incorporated into a composition in which the shapes of rocks in the foreground echo those of the hills and mountains beyond. A small figure, lying on the central rock in the foreground, appears both one with nature and dwarfed by it.

Compared with Kent’s other representations of the Berkshires, this painting is the most panoramic and characteristic of the artist’s fully developed style. Kent said that the Berkshires reminded him of “old Greece, of Mt. Olympus,” which he conveyed here through formal elements that produce a sense of monumentality and timelessness.

About the artist

Rockwell Kent (1882-1971) spent much of his life in New York City, studying painting under influential artists including William Merritt Chase and Robert Henri before venturing in 1903 to New Hampshire to apprentice with Abbott Handerson Thayer. Kent’s personal stylistic formation was influenced by modernism, grounded in realism, and wedded to his mystical beliefs about the power of nature and man’s insignificance in face of it. In 1905 Kent moved to Monhegan Island in Maine, the first of a series of trips to remote locations that included Newfoundland, Alaska, Greenland, and Tierra del Fuego.

Kent attended Socialist meetings in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, in 1909, and his politics became increasingly controversial after World War II. By the 1930s he was associated with the Communist Party. During the Cold War, he was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee and was denied a passport in 1957. He eventually gave eighty works of art to the Soviet Union.