Painting This Uniquely American Place

Painting Cape Cod in the Summer

Edwin Dickinson's watercolor painting, Boatyard, Provincetown (1921, 15 1/4 x 19), with its delicate washes and subtle color, shows how well suited watercolor medium is to the maritime subject matter of Cape Cod.
Edwin Dickinson’s watercolor painting, Boatyard, Provincetown (1921, 15 1/4 x 19), with its delicate washes and subtle color, shows how well suited watercolor medium is to the maritime subject matter of Cape Cod.

America is a land of rich diversity that extends throughout our landscapes, cities, and regions. I’d say that one of the most distinctive places we have is Cape Cod. Now, being a born-and-raised Southern girl, I have always romanticized the northern coasts and beaches because they always look so postcard perfect for idyllic summer getaways with their sandy beaches, tumbling beach grass, and towering lighthouses. Perhaps all of these unique visuals are the reason why so many artists throughout the decades have decided that painting Cape Cod is worth doing, and worth doing with such varied points of view.

Take Ross Moffett for starters. A contemporary of Charles Hawthorne, Moffett created numerous paintings of figures in the Cape Cod landscape in the early and mid-twentieth century–documenting the maritime culture and community whose livelihood was made at sea. His works are stark and bleak, but simplistically beautiful as well.

Contemporary artist Richard Baker does tongue-in-cheek still life paintings of the bounty of the sea–lobsters, oysters, and clams painted alongside lemon wedges and a knife to pry the shellfish open–as if the painting is just as much a snapshot of supper as a fine art painting.

Richard Baker’s painting, Agreeable View (oil on linen, 2005, 24 1/2 x 35 1/4) is a fun still life version of a lobster bake–abstracted and sans pot.

But one of my favorites is Edwin Dickinson. His works are filled with a lovely quietness that corresponds with my childhood dreams of Cape Cod. One of my favorite works of his is a watercolor, Boatyard, Provincetown. Personally, I feel like the best medium to capture the light and breezy atmosphere of Cape Cod is watercolor. In this work, the transparent washes make the water, air, and boats all seem inseparable–which makes perfect sense as part of the narrative of this place. Dickinson is a master of delicate washes that are warm but don’t feel heavy with pigment. That kind of dual looseness and control is one of the watercolor painting techniques I keep trying to learn…and relearn. But with each attempt I get more and more confident.

Cape Cod is one of hundreds of places that call to us because of its unique landscape, atmosphere, and the artists who have painted it in their own individual ways. Painter Jane Chapin took to heart this “call to place” with her years’ long project to paint in all fifty states, which culminated in her book, Land of the Free.

What started out as Jane’s personal journey became an artistic movement to honor American veterans. Land of the Free is Jane’s tribute to America’s heroes throughout history and those who serve today. The book chronicles Jane’s paintings in every state as well as a modern hero’s story. Partial proceeds for purchases of the book go to support the Special Operations Warrior Foundation! Get your copy now to support these efforts!




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Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.   

2 thoughts on “Painting This Uniquely American Place

  1. I really enjoyed this article. I grew up on Cape Cod and never really appreciated it’s beauty until I moved away. I just had the pleasure to be “home” for a couple of weeks with the goal of Urban sketching/painting places I grew up seeing all the time. It truly gave me a different view of how vacationers see such a special place and why it’s such a mecca for artists. There is something wonderful down every street, either in nature or in architecture “The Cahd” has it all.