After winning the Museum School's prestigious Paige Traveling Scholarship, Hibbard made his first and only trip to Europe and Northern Africa in 1913-1914, spending fourteen months filling his sketchbooks and working en plein air as he explored cities across Western Europe. First staying in London and Paris, he then crossed over to Spain, venturing from north to south, and in early 1914 was exploring the coastal towns of Malaga, Valencia and Barcelona. It is likely at one of these ports where Fishermen off the Spanish Coast (above) was painted and, as with many of the smaller pieces done on site during his travels, he worked using dappled brushwork to capture the play of light on the placid current and to render the rugged terrain of the distant mountains.
Italian Boats and Archway (above) was likely painted in either Venice or Chioggia, where the artist stayed from mid-May until late September, before the outbreak of war eventually cut his European adventure short and he returned to the States after Thanksgiving. In a diary entry from his time in Chioggia, he notes the subjects that drew his interest: “Left early to paint. Interesting street scene. Senoras making lace. Men mending sails and people washing, all kinds of occupations. Went painting in a native boat.” The activity along the waterfront was most intriguing to the painter, although he had to contend with the hustle and bustle of a working port, as noted in a later entry: “Sails came down, rudders came off and boats changed position but I stuck to the post and got something out of it. Such is an artist’s life, full of troubles.” Italian Boats and Archway demonstrates Hibbard’s ability to capture an engaging composition in a small space as well as his attention to rendering the way sunlight falls on the scene, hitting the uppermost parts of the masts and casting long purple shadows against the background wall.
“Snow is the most sensitive subject, subtly influenced by sudden changes in light. It is never dead white!”
Hibbard discovered the beauty of the Canadian Rocky Mountains in the mid-1920s, first on his own and later on his honeymoon with Winifred Jackman in 1925, and the studies he completed during these visits would inform compositions throughout his lifetime. An exhibition of these works at the Guild of Boston Artists in 1926 found an admirer in critic A. J. Philpott, who felt compelled to compare Hibbard’s renditions to those done by John Singer Sargent a decade earlier: “But Sargent did not know mountains in such an intimate way as Hibbard. Hibbard not only gives you the spirit of the mountains in all their massive grandeur, but he gives you something else – an intimate something that others don’t just get.” The lakes, mountains and woodlands provided endless inspiration, and he even traveled by horseback in order to reach some of the more spectacular views. Bow River, near Banff, Canadian Rockies demonstrates Hibbard’s vigorous brushwork and strong sense of color and composition in rendering the majestic peaks and crystalline lakes and rivers of Western Canada.
In addition to sites throughout Rockport, Hibbard explored nearby towns in search of paintable material, such as this view of Gloucester Harbor (above) and a view of Essex marshes looking toward Hog Island (below). The latter example depicts the outpost initially called Hog Island (allegedly due to its distinctive shape in the form of a hog’s back or in reference to the animals found on the farms it held, or perhaps a combination of the two), and formally renamed Choate Island in 1887, although many continue to affectionately refer to it using its porcine name. Hibbard’s painting reveals his knack for developing strong compositions in his canvases, here using a series of curving lines and blocks of color to bring the viewer in and through the landscape to the rounded form of the island in the distance.
Many artists have been drawn to the tranquil coves and dramatic cliffs of Maine’s Monhegan Island since the mid-19th century, and Aldro Hibbard was no exception. Soon after the close of his Rockport Summer School in 1949, he began making trips to the island, usually in autumn, with friends and fellow artists Lee Winslow Court and Earle Titus. Monhegan Harbor, Maine (below) which shows the island of Manana in the background and Smutty Nose on the right, reveals the artist’s strength for capturing the glow of sunlight on the bluffs and wharf, and on the various watercraft on the clear blue water. The inclusion of lobster traps stored next to the dock and a lobster smack moored near Manana at left speak to one of Monhegan’s main sources of income from October through May, before tourism takes over during the warmer months.
Despite travelling in search of subject matter, Hibbard returned again and again to one place in particular - Vermont. At the recommendation of fellow Boston artist and Fenway Studios resident William J. Kaula, he first traveled to Vermont in 1915 and was immediately taken with the mountains, valleys and charming residents of the region, which he would paint for the remainder of his career.
"You must get to know a place before you can paint it. Otherwise you just do a flash picture that misses the meaning and potential of your subject."
As the cold descended on New England, Hibbard would depart Rockport, Massachusetts, and settle into his Jamaica, Vermont, farmhouse, spending the next several months rendering the grand vistas and charming snow-caked hamlets found throughout his adopted state. The long Vermont winters not only provided an abundance of snow, but also the idyllic themes of bygone days – quaint clapboard homes, sprawling pastures, dense forest interiors – that were fast disappearing. He planned his outings well in advance by studying forecasts, dressing in layers, and even crafting a special knit glove through which he held his brush before finally donning his snowshoes and trudging out to his chosen spot. Despite the hardships of painting in sub-zero temperatures against a biting wind, Hibbard amassed a portfolio of brilliant landscapes imbued with crisp mountain air coupled with an undeniable warmth. His snow, while frozen in life, radiates on the canvas, thanks to his inspired handling of light and color. Carefully designed and superbly rendered, Hibbard’s compositions feel impromptu, a clever tactic made all the more essential for one at the mercy of Mother Nature.
To categorize Aldro Hibbard purely as a painter of New England landscapes and snow is to disregard his varied skill. His artistic aptitude, especially in his student and early professional years, embraced a variety of subject matter including portraits, genre scenes, and still lifes, and his landscape work carried him internationally and into every season. Aldro Hibbard: Ranging Far and Wide, surveys the breadth of the artist’s output throughout his long and celebrated career, and is viewable online December 7th, 2019 - January 18th, 2020.
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