Jay Hall Connaway was a painter of sea and surf, renowned for the littoral landscapes he painted on Monhegan Island, Maine. His ability to translate the moods of nature into paint by means of a vigorous realist style brought him widespread acclaim and the admiration of contemporary critics such as Howard Devree, who called his approach “forthright and direct” and described his work as “honest painting that carries conviction, is deeply felt and, at best, grips the beholder.”
Connaway was born in Liberty, Indiana, the son of Cass Connaway, a lawyer who collected Chinese art, and his wife May. He began painting and drawing as a boy, going on to attend art classes at the John Herron Art Institute School during 1910-11. From there, Connaway went to New York, continuing his training at the Art Students League under George Bridgman and William Merritt Chase from 1911 to 1913. Following this, he travelled to the Pacific coast via the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroads before returning to the East, where he held a number of jobs, including working as a doryman for a Nova Scotia fishing fleet and as a cook for a lumber camp in Maine.
Jay Hall Connaway - Crashing Surf, Monhegan, Maine, 1925
When America entered the first world war in 1917, Connaway enlisted in the army and was sent to France. After suffering a shoulder wound, he worked as a cartographer and made medical drawings and watercolors of skin wounds caused by mustard gas. The latter activity brought him into contact with Lafayette Page, a physician who was so impressed with the quality of Connaway’s draftsmanship that, at the close of the war, he sponsored his studies at the Académie Julian (1919-20) and at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts (1921) in Paris.
Upon returning to New York in 1922, Connaway showed some of his paintings--views of Paris and Pont Aven, Brittany--to Robert Macbeth, an influential dealer who promoted American art. Macbeth in turn conferred with the marine painters Paul Dougherty, Emil Carlsen, and Frederick Waugh, who provided Connaway with the financial means to spend the next three years painting seascapes at Head Arbor Island, Maine.
In 1926, Connaway had his first one-man exhibition at the Macbeth Galleries. Two years later, he married Louise Boehle, a pianist and nurse. The couple then embarked on a three-year trip to France, where Connaway painted coastal scenes in Brittany. Returning to America in the midst of the Depression, he decided to settle in a place where he could live economically and paint the sea. He subsequently moved to Monhegan Island, Maine, a tiny, isolated island known for its rugged coastline and ever-changing weather conditions. It was there, over the course of fifteen years, that Connaway painted the powerful marines for which he became known. His boldly-rendered oils, executed in a realist manner with a concern for “good drawing and color,” captured the power, movement and vitality of the sea -- to the extent that many critics viewed him as a successor to Winslow Homer. 
Connaway also opened his own summer school--the Connaway Art School--where students were taught the techniques of marine painting. He remained in Monhegan until 1947, at which time he moved to Vermont, residing in Dorset until 1953, when he settled in Pawlet. During these years, he painted rural landscapes that captured the quiet, understated beauty of the Vermont countryside. Much admired as a teacher, he continued to operate his summer art school until 1966. Connaway also lectured and demonstrated his painting techniques in art schools and museums across America.
Connaway belonged to many art organizations of note, including the National Academy of Design, Allied Artists of America and the Salmagundi Club. He had eighty-nine one-man shows during his lifetime, including annual solo exhibitions at the Macbeth Galleries from 1926 to 1940.
Connaway began spending his winters in Arizona during the late 1960s, and it was there that he died in 1970. His work is represented in major public collections throughout the United States, including the John Herron Art Institute, Indianapolis; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Portland Museum of Art, Maine; the Canajoharie Art Museum, Canajoharie, New York; the Springville Art Association, Utah; the William Farnsworth Museum, Rockland, Maine; the Sweat Museum of Art, Portland, Maine; the Monhegan Museum, Maine; and Colby College, Waterville, Maine.
©The essay herein is the property of Spanierman Gallery LLC and is copyrighted by Spanierman Gallery LLC and may not be reproduced in whole or in part, without written permission from Spanierman Gallery LLC nor shown or communicated to anyone without due credit being given to Spanierman Gallery LLC.
.Royal Cortissoz, New YorkHerald Tribune, February 12, 1928, quoted in Jay Connaway, 15.