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Before the Paint: A Marine Artist's Sketchbook

My affinity for the more obscure and difficult-to-exhibit artifacts leads me to show you not any finished, framed masterpieces (of which we have many), but something more ephemeral: a few pages from the sketchbooks of Belfast, Maine artist Percy Sanborn (1849-1929).

Sanborn's eloquent and substantial ship portraits of numerous well known vessels have assured his reputation as a regional marine artist of note, but these rarely, if ever, seen preliminary studies of coastal shipping and landscapes have a unique, if fragile, charm all their own.

Almost entirely of pencil studies, these small (3" x6") lightly bound booklets are of a size to fit easily into a pocket, and so contain sketches of scenes, color, light and composition that were undoubtedly done on the spot, to be worked up more formally in the studio, or perhaps never.

In another only slightly larger notebook, Sanborn followed his ideas to more completed compositions. One example:

Sanborn was a meticulous observer of detail for his ship portraits. Another little notebook entitled "Foots and Leeches" contains page after page of named vessels with sail proportions carefully blocked out.

From these minute reference notebooks, he expanded to the full-size ship portraits, using the paintbox and palette below.

Ironically, I cannot show you a finished Percy Sanborn ship portrait, for there are none in our collections.

Let me know if you stopped by down here!
Chris Hall, Registrar

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Christopher Timm
Curator of Exhibits