‘Across the Avenues: Fairfield Porter in New York’ At Parrish Art Museum

The Parrish Art Museum presents “Across the Avenues: Fairfield Porter in New York,” a permanent collection exhibition featuring 26 paintings and prints. The show opens on February 18 and will run through June 16.

The exhibition focuses on Porter’s cityscapes of New York between the mid-1940s and the mid-1970s, showcasing his ability to capture the bustling energy of the city, both day and night. The works featured in the exhibition explore the city from various perspectives, including views from above through an apartment window, scenes of hurried sidewalks during the mid-afternoon rush, and below the noisy avenues on subway platforms.

The selection, drawn from the Museum’s extensive Porter collection of over 240 works, includes 23 paintings and three lithographic prints illuminating the artist’s use of varied hues. In the few evening scenes in the exhibition, Porter’s palette dramatically shifts from warm yellows and light blues with tones of pink dispersed throughout the skies to capture daytime scenes to moodier tones of deep browns and blues to represent the darkness falling over the city’s apartment buildings at night. Porter’s way of identifying the switch from day to night is most notable in the glimmering apartment windows glowing in the evening sky. 

After occasionally visiting New York City during his college years, Porter moved to Manhattan in 1928, residing on 15th Street while continuing his studies at the Art Students League for two years. After living in Europe for part of 1931, he returned to the U.S. the following year, marrying poet Anne Channing and calling New York City home until 1936—the couple first lived at 122 Washington Place in the Village and shortly thereafter moved to a larger apartment on Bank Street. During these four years, Porter consistently painted cityscapes, specifically street scenes, which are prominently featured in this permanent collection installation. After a period in his hometown of Winnetka, IL, Porter returned to New York in 1943 and stayed until 1949 before moving to Southampton. Porter was keen on the family being near the ocean, with the thought that they may not always have time to visit their home on Great Spruce Head Island in Maine. The artist and his family lived on Main Street, not far from the original site of the Parrish Art Museum. Porter called Southampton home for the next 25 years of his life before his untimely death in 1975. Throughout Porter’s career, the city endured as one of his primary inspirations, alongside his landscapes and portraits. 

This collection of cityscapes highlights Porter’s dedication to representational art and his formal training. Porter had previously studied at Harvard University with Arthur Pope, at Parsons School of Design with Jacques Maroger, and at the Art Students League with Boardman Robinson and Thomas Hart Benton—all during a time when the focus in contemporary art was abstraction. Despite being criticized by peers and art critics, including famed critic Clement Greenberg, Porter was unwavering in his devotion to a representational style of his own. 

In a 1969 interview with Grace Glueck of The New York Times, she notes of her conversation with Porter, “He is also working on what he says is the hardest painting problem, a portrait of a Manhattan Street.” When referencing the light of New York, Porter remarked to Glueck that it was “. . .far more beautiful than Paris or Rome.” 

“Across the Avenues: Fairfield Porter in New York” is curated by Kaitlin Halloran, Assistant Curator and Publications Coordinator, with supervision from Corinne Erni, Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Chief Curator, Art and Education and Deputy Director of Curatorial Affairs. 

1979 the Fairfield Porter Estate donated over 240 works to the Museum’s permanent collection. Anne Porter recognized the deep connection between the Parrish and her late husband and decided to donate drawings, prints, paintings, and archival materials to the Museum. The relationship between Porter and the Parrish greatly developed during the 25 years Porter lived in Southampton, as he was included in solo and group exhibitions, served as a juror for an invitational show and taught painting workshops. The Porter collection has been a part of many permanent collection rotations and continues to be met with great enthusiasm. 

Visit parrishart.org for related programming and updated event information.

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