Spanierman Gallery, LLC is pleased to announce the opening on July 19, 2007 of The Road Less Traveled: New England Landscapes by Robert Emmett Owen (1878-1957)
, an exhibition and sale of fifty-five paintings by this Impressionist artist, who dedicated his career to capturing the beauty and variety of the New England countryside.
In his views of colonial churches, red farmhouses, and covered bridges, Robert Emmett Owen conveyed the notion of New England
as the most quintessentially American region and the preserver of an older, simpler way of life during a period of great social change. At the same time, his images reflect a phenomenon of his own era, the rise to popularity of motorcar touring for the purpose of enjoying the scenic qualities of the American landscape. During the period from the 1910s through the 1940s in which Owen’s career unfolded—and especially during the war years, when Europe was closed to tourists—many guidebooks encouraged Americans to take automobile vacations aimed at seeing the splendor of their own country. As roads and cars improved, the range of routes and places to visit widened. Taking advantage of such developments, Owen often drove far into New England, stopping his car when a site caught his eye. Taking out his folding easel and painting stool, he would record what he saw from the side of the road. As in the words of his poet-contemporary Robert Frost, who was also compelled by a deep love of New England, Owen often chose “the road less traveled.” While in his images, the turn of the road leads into the distance, the focus is on the landscape before us. Whether the road is visible or not, Owen expresses a bygone ideal of car travel, conveying the pleasure of seeing places in passing without lingering too long or going by too fast.
Owen, who was born in North Adams, Massachusetts, and studied at the Eric Pape School of Art in Boston, began his career as an illustrator for the prominent and popular magazines of his era. He was finally able to paint full-time in 1910, when he settled in Bangall, Connecticut, now absorbed into a northern section of Stamford. He moved to New York City in 1920 and three years later opened his own gallery, which he ran in various locations until 1941, when he moved to New Rochelle, New York. Owen started his gallery as an experiment, but discovered that the “idea was good since it offered to Americans typically American pictures,” as he recalled. His buyers included many entrepreneurs who found calm solace from the pressures of the marketplace in his peaceful images, but he also sold his work to many other individuals, who had “tracked through” New England themselves and found that Owen’s paintings matched their experiences. As one writer stated, Owen portrayed “the more picturesque aspects of our country just about the way we liked to see it,” while another praised him for depicting “our New England countryside in its most attractive aspects.” Today Owen’s unsentimentalized “portraits of nature” still conjure a fundamental sense of contentment in our collective memory.