John Whorf (1903 - 1959)
Born: Winthrop, Massachusetts
The artistic journey of John Whorf began in Winthrop, Massachusetts where Whorf was born in 1903. At a young age he displayed a precocious talent and was given informal art lessons by his artist/graphic designer father, Harry Church Whorf, followed by instruction at the Boston atelier of Sherman Kidd, and at the Museum School where Whorf studied drawing with Philip Leslie Hale and painting with William James. As a teenager, Whorf's summer months were spent in Provincetown, then a mecca for artists and writers fleeing war-torn Europe during and after the First World War.
Provincetown was the town of Whorf's ancestors, seafarers all until his grandfather, Isaiah, came ashore and established himself in the clothing trade in Boston. The family maintained a summer home in Provincetown where Whorf stayed every summer. By the age of sixteen, he had begun studies in Provincetown with George Elmer Browne (1871-1946) and Charles Webster Hawthorne (1872-1930) who were, unarguably, the two formative teachers in Whorf's life. During his many visits to Paris, Whorf enhanced his training at Ecole Colarossi, Academie Julian, Ecole des Beaux Arts, and Academie de la Grande Chaumiere.
From Browne, Whorf acquired a strong sense of design as well as an appreciation for the evocative nocturnal scenes for which Browne was admired. From Hawthorne, who opened his Cape Cod School of Art and founded the Provincetown art colony in 1899, Whorf acquired the color sense that infuses his work. The Hawthorne "method" emphasized value and tone. Quick studies of outdoor models, called mudheads, were Hawthorne's method of teaching students to understand the contrast of form in illuminated and shadowed areas, as well as the subtle, related tones in color.
In 1924, Whorf was given his first one-man exhibition at the Grace Horne Gallery in Boston where he remained an annual exhibitor for the next fifteen years. By 1927, Whorf was being represented in New York at the prestigious Milch Gallery, where he exhibited annually until his death in 1959. Whorf's Boston representation subsequently included the venerable Vose Gallery and Shore Studio Gallery. Boston art critic Robert Taylor remarked that, "Whorf's record of thirty-two annual exhibitions [referring to Boston, but with as many in New York], each selling out, will probably never be paralleled." With the cooperation of Milch Gallery, which served as Whorf's agent, Whorf occasionally participated in group exhibitions nationwide.
By the late 1920s and then living in the Boston suburb of Brookline, Whorf had all but abandoned oil paint in favor of watercolor, which, he said, suited his temperament, his eagerness to awaken his sense of immediacy. Traditionally considered a tint medium, critics noted that Whorf's bold, virile use of watercolor, and his employment of oil painting techniques - the building of color - had broken new ground. Whorf's transition to watercolor is also explained, in part, by a childhood injury - a severed sciatic nerve that resulted from a splintered hip after Whorf jumped off an old Provincetown wharf and hit a submerged object - that resulted initially in paralysis and then in a lifelong permanent weakness in one leg that made it increasing difficult to transport the paraphernalia necessary for oil painting.
Despite his disability, Whorf travelled widely in the early years of his career, taking long sojourns in France, Spain, North Africa, the West Indies, and the Appalachian, New York and Canadian wildernesses, painting views of Montparnasse, Moroccan bazaars, Breton villages, stream fishermen, gypsies, bathers and sea apples. "There is very little Whorf cannot do with watercolor," noted one reviewer.
By the late-1930s, Whorf had ceased his far-flung travels and had relocated permanently from Boston to Provincetown where he began to nurture an increasingly indigenous viewpoint, Provincetown, Boston and rural New England furnishing him with a wealth of material and atmospheric mood. His beloved Provincetown was a never-ending source of inspiration and subject matter, the handsome design of the trap boats and the town's quaint byways and backyard gardens becoming favorite subjects.
Among Whorf's many honors and recognitions are the Logan Medal, awarded by the Art Institute of Chicago in 1928, and his honorary Master of Arts degree awarded by Harvard University in 1938, Whorf being the first contemporary painter to be so recognized. That same year, Whorf was one of only two Boston artists to be selected by the Museum of Modern Art for its exhibition in Paris. The following year, the Art Institute of Chicago again honored Whorf with a special exhibition of his watercolors, alongside collections by Edward Hopper and Henri Matisse. In 1947, Whorf was elected to the National Academy of Design and, in 1948, to the American Watercolor Society. In Provincetown, he was a proud and active member of the famed Beachcombers. Whorf, who married Vivienne Wing in March 1925 and was the father of four children, died in Provincetown in 1959 at the age of 56.
Whorf's paintings are included in private collections across America and he is represented in major museum collections, including the Smithsonian American Art Museum; Metropolitan Museum of Art: Museum of Fine Arts; Brigham Young University Museum of Art; Brooklyn Museum; Rhode Island School of Design Museum; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, List Visual Arts Center; National Academy of Design; Art Institute of Chicago; Indianapolis Museum of Art; Addison Gallery of American Art/Phillips Academy; Provincetown Art Association and Museum; Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum; Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University; Canton (Ohio) Museum of Art; Butler Institute of American Art; Baltimore Museum of Art; Pitti Gallery (Florence, Italy) and the National Museum, Copenhagen.