The Portland Museum of Art’s Of Whales in Paint: Rockwell Kent’s Moby-Dick exhibition explores the novel’s enduring visual identity and influence
Moby-Dick may be required reading today, but it received little attention when Herman Melville first published it in 1851. It wasn’t until Lakeside Press posthumously republished it 50 years later that it became established as a work of true and enduring artistry; it would go on to become one of the Great American Novels. That limited-edition, three-volume set included nearly 300 of artist Rockwell Kent’s pared down but powerful ink-on-paper drawings depicting the Pequod’s voyage and the dangers of life at sea. Rendered only in black and white, the carefully composed scenes powerfully capture the novel’s themes of strength, solitude, and spirituality.
Now through December 31, Of Whales in Paint: Rockwell Kent’s Moby-Dick at the Portland Museum of Art will display those original works—on loan from painter Jamie Wyeth—as well as the museum’s recently acquired copy of the Lakeside Press edition. The exhibition also explores both historic and contemporary interpretations of the book, including drawings, prints, and paintings by modern and contemporary artists such as Leonard Baskin, Elaine Reichek, Frank Stella, and Tim Rollins and K.O.S.
“As a seaman himself, Kent personally felt the connection between seemingly endless water and the sky that he so wonderfully captures in many of his drawings,” says Diana Greenwold, assistant curator of American art. “The artist’s genius is his ability to immerse the reader in the story— placing one seemingly on board the boat.” On the following pages, MH+D presents several of the diverse works from the show.