JPW at the Natl. Academy of Sciences
I was in Washington DC for most of last week. I had a museum mountmaking conference at the Smithsonian on Weds and Thurs, but I took Friday to visit the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). The NAS is a Goodhue building (1924) and James Perry Wilson had a prominent role in its construction. The museum has two artworks from 1922 by Wilson on display. One is a watercolor rendering of the building and the other is an oil on canvas of the building by moonlight.
I couldn’t help think how Wilson studied how to paint moonlit landscapes all through his life. This puts his study of moonlight back into the early 1920’s. I know of two other moonlit seascapes from Monhegan painted in the 1920’s. Conrad Schweiring writes about how Wilson at age 69 came out West in the summer of 1959 on an expedition to collect reference paintings/photographs for the Badger and the Flying Squirrel dioramas in the Small Mammal Hall at the AMNH. The Flying Squirrel is a nocturnal diorama and he and Wilson stayed up one night during the full moon to practice painting by moonight. They concluded that all the colors are present in a moonlit landscape, but they are all muted down by the gray, which puts them close together in value. The Racoon diorama is also a nocturnal diorama and it predates the Flying Squirrel by 6 or 7 years. I always remember the Racoon diorama because it has tiny specks of broken mirror glued to the background painting to catch light from above to simulate stars. It is a quite convincing effect-not to mention baffling if you don’t know how it is done. I thought they had drilled holes in the wall to let light from behind shine through!
There are also several plein air paintings JPW paintied at night. There are a couple of houses painted in the moonlight with light shing out from the windows-very similar to the NAS painting. There are at least three seascapes From Monhegan painted in the moonlight.