Nantucket Art

Sold for $74,500

The Market for Nantucket Art has never been stronger

Auction sales for paintings by George Inness, Eastman Johnson, Anne Ramsdell Congdon, Ralph Cahoon, Wendell Macy, James Walter Folger, Hayley Lever, Frank Swift Chase, George McCord and others driving the marketplace.

Having established records for prices paid for artworks by many Nantucket artists, Rafael Osona Auctions is the leading resource for locally produced paintings and sculpture spanning the 19–21st centuries.

Inspiration, Good Light and Enthusiastic Patrons

There’s good reason why artists choose to paint on Nantucket.  The island is recognized among world locations that have fostered centuries of venerable art – those rare places that ensure an artist’s primary needs are met: inspiration, good light and enthusiastic patrons.

By the turn of the 20th century, a significantly established Nantucket Art Colony recorded a subtle evolution from working waterfront to world resort. Nantucket art is a visual record for a transformational cultural shift from industry to leisure.

The Early Years

The earliest Nantucket art was mostly utilitarian; objects decorated and embellished by the hand of the giver: baskets and scrimshaw, samplers, walking sticks, ditty boxes, swifts and other folk art.

As 18th – early 19th century whale ships prospered and the island’s growing wealth allowed, things began to change. Prominent Nantucket families commissioned portraits – among them Folgers, Macys, Coffins and Starbucks. Itinerant, self-taught limners painted the earliest likenesses. Later portraits were fashioned by the more classically trained.  Artists William Swain (1803-1847), James S. Hathaway (1830-1852) and George Gardner Fish (1822-1906) were three of the most sought after portrait artists.

Art in the Wealthiest Town in America

Having become the wealthiest town in America by the 1840s, Nantucket’s small inns and guesthouses began to welcome the growing numbers of summer visitors. Thirty years later, grand hotels – and grander “summer cottages” – graciously accommodated the rich and famous.

Local artists like Wendell Macy (1845 – 1913) seized the opportunity.  Having set up shop on Main Street, Macy painted Nantucket’s landmarks, steamboats, the shore, abundant offshore shipwrecks, and quaint rural scenes that visitors could collect as souvenirs.   Having returned from her New York studies to 22 Lily Street, Nantucket-born Annie Barker Folger (1852-1936) – a founding member of New York’s Art Students League – painted en plein air, producing remarkably lush evocations of the island’s vistas.  Both artists thrived mightily, and there was nothing transient about Nantuctet Art.

The Birth of an Art Colony

By the turn of the 20th century, Nantucket had become a revered destination among the greatest American artists of the day. Eastman Johnson (1824 – 1906), painter and co-founder of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, had for years enthusiastically encouraged peers to join him here, to experience the “healthful climate” and “exceptional light.” The seeds for an artists’ colony had been sewn, and the locale was fertile.

Frank Swift Chase (1886 – 1958) followed, organizing classes for aspiring artists, returning every summer through the mid ‘50s to teach and paint. Nantucket artists Tony Sarg, Doris & Richard Beer, Jane Brewster Reed, Annie Barker Folger, and Elizabeth Rebecca Coffin were among their peers; Anne Ramsdell Congdon, Emily Hoffmeier, Elizabeth Saltonstall, Harriett Lord, Ruth Haviland Sutton, and Isabelle Hollister Tuttle, were among Chase’s students.  By the 1920s, Nantucket art was transforming the working waterfront. Fishing shanties now functioned as artist studios, and in 1945, a newly founded Artists Association occupied the old Macy warehouse, where spermaceti and whale oil had once been stored.

The last half of the 20th century solidified the extent of this acclaimed Artists’ colony. Galleries evolved, and the Artists Association of Nantucket… [became] the arts center on Nantucket. Candlelight readings by Thornton Wilder and Tennessee Williams. An exhibition of works on paper by Diego Rivera. A piano recital by Leonard Shure. An exhibition on loan from the Met that included Max Weber and Thomas Hart Benton. Lectures on modern art by members of the 45 Group….”  ~AAN History

Over the years, dozens – perhaps hundreds – of resident and visiting artists have made good use of Nantucket’s bounty:  her inspiration, good light and now, global patrons. Edgar Jenny, Julian Yates, C. Robert Perrin, Philip Burnham Hicken, Pat Gardner, Sybil Goldsmith, John Austin, Bobby & Polly Bushong, Andrew Shunney, Roy Bailey, Illya Kagan, David Lazarus, Robert Stark, Keith McDaniels, Kerry Hallam, G. S. Hill and James Harrington are not the least among them.

Rafael Osona Auctions is recognized as a leading specialist in 19th–21st century Nantucket Arts.

19th – 21st Century Nantucket Artists (a partial list)


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