Mystic Museum of Art remembers local artist Robert Brackman

Portrait of Charles A. Lindbergh, by artist Robert Brackman. Oil on canvas. (Mead Art Museum, Amherst College, Amherst, Massachusetts.  Gift of Anne Morrow Lindbergh)
Portrait of Charles A. Lindbergh, by artist Robert Brackman. Oil on canvas. (Mead Art Museum, Amherst College, Amherst, Massachusetts.  Gift of Anne Morrow Lindbergh)

“Think in color. In color you will find your values.”

Those were the words of advice that renowned artist Robert Brackman imparted to his students over his career, and that has become the theme of an exhibition remembering his work titled "Robert Brackman: Thinking in Color" at the Mystic Museum of Art.

Brackman (1898-1980) was an esteemed artist of southeastern Connecticut and the president of the Mystic Museum of Art, formerly known as the Mystic Art Association, in 1952 and 1953. His connection to the museum and the region are remembered through the 19-piece exhibition featuring works across the span of Brackman’s career.

“It’s not a large exhibition, but we hope it will bring long overdue attention,” museum director George King says, explaining that the museum was trying to weave in more exhibitions of prominent local artists.

“When you think of the other Connecticut artists who came here and who lived in this area, for example, many of those artists are principally known for their landscaping and maritime paintings, but Brackman distinguished himself for not being known for that,” he says.

Brackman’s portraits of Charles Lindberg and his wife, Anne, painted in 1938 — both of which are on prominent display at the exhibition — were his original claim to fame, as the couple rose to international celebrity status throughout the 20th century.

The portraits gained Brackman so much recognition, in fact, that he would receive, on average, 20 commission requests annually, curator Erika Neenan says. Some of his most well-known works include paintings of the Rockefellers and Ivy League presidents. His portrait of former Mystic Seaport Museum President Phillip R. Mallory, painted in 1959, is also on display in the exhibition.

He could have settled for a comfortable career in painting portraits but was fearful of becoming a society painter, Neenan says. He therefore challenged himself to create art in other forms, which included still lifes and pastels.

A pastel drawing of American art historian Winslow Ames and a lithographic piece of his mother are both on display in the exhibition and demonstrate the breadth of Brackman’s talent.

Brackman, who was born in Odessa, Ukraine, came to the United States as a child and eventually moved to New York City to study at the National Academy of Design in New York City. There, under the direction of teachers Robert Henri and George Bellows, he learned studio art.

He eventually left New York City and settled in Noank, where he went on to teach generations of emerging artists in his home studio and at the Lyme Academy of Fine Arts and at the Madison Art School.

While Brackman was at the National Academy of Design, however, his teachers imparted their fascination of color to him. Both teachers were inspired by the

works of renowned artists such as Paul Cézanne and Vincent van Gogh, who are both famous for using color as a vehicle of expression. The work of Hardesty Gilmore Maratta, an American artist and color theorist who developed chromatic color charts, was also a defining influence on both teachers and therefore on Brackman as well.

The ways in which color could be used to create form in a painting was not a new undertaking by the time Brackman became a student, but he managed to dedicate his artistic career to mastering the use of color and following in the footsteps of the artists who pioneered those techniques.

Take, for example, the portrait he painted of his wife, Francis Brackman, in 1937. The oil-on-canvas work displays a full-length portrayal of his wife in a long dress — the golden-brown stripes on her dress initially demonstrate Brackman’s preference for earth tones, but, more important, those stripes define her figure and add texture to the portrait.

“What he contributed to the American art scene needs to be revisited and revived,” King says. “He was known for his use of color, but he did it in a way that was very subtle. If you looked at his paintings, you may not recognize that color was a big part of his expressions.”

 

“Portrait of the Artist’s Wife, Francis Brackman,” 1937.  Oil on canvas. (Mystic Museum of Art Permanent Collection)
“Portrait of the Artist’s Wife, Francis Brackman,” 1937.  Oil on canvas. (Mystic Museum of Art Permanent Collection)

If you go

What: “Robert Brackman: Thinking in Color”

Where: Mystic Museum of Art, 9 Water St., Mystic

When: Through Sept. 23: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. daily except closed Mondays

Admission: Free

Contact: (860) 536-7601, www.mysticmuseumofart.org

 

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