Hamptons Bohemia: Two Centuries of Artists and Writers on the Beach (Hardcover)
For more than two centuries, the Hamptons have been home to a vibrant community of artists and writers, lured by the golden dunes, refreshing breezes, radiant landscapes, and frequent visits from the Muse. It was here that Winslow Homer painted bathers and strollers on the ocean beach and Lee Krasner created her Earth Series in a cramped studio shared with her husband, Jackson Pollock. From Herman Melville to F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Steinbeck to George Plimpton, these are just a few of the gifted figures to draw inspiration from this famous and fashionable retreat. Richly illustrated with archival photos and reproductions of the artists' work, "Hamptons Bohemia" chronicles the evolution of a community and the colorful characters who have inhabited it.
About the Author
Helen A. Harrison is an art historian, art critic for the New York Times, and director of the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center in East Hampton, New York. A resident of Sag Harbor, New York, she has lectured and published widely on 20th-century Americ
Constance Ayers Denne a Professor of English at Baruch College, CUNY, is a leading authority on the work of James Fenimore Cooper. Her book reviews, lectures, books, articles, and other literary endeavors have earned acclaim in the United States and abroad
Edward Albee, the renowned playwright and winner of three Pulitzer Prizes, is a longtime resident of Montauk, New York.
"The Hamptons." Ugh, that term. There can be few parts of the world more freighted with pejorative associations so contrary to the tru character of the place itself.
The term is shorthand for Southampton, Bridgehampton and East Hampton, three towns on Long Island some 150 miles east of Manhattan, but it takes in the entire "South Fork," from Southampton all the way to Montauk on the island's easternmost tip, including villages with names like Sagaponack, Amagansett and the Springs.
What you will find there is extraordinary beauty - blissful vistas across rolling fields, acres of ocean under an enormous dome of sky, beaches that meander out of sight in every direction, the rhythmic churn of water, a lustrous, all-pervading light. In the Hamptons, nature is the star attraction, the first reason for the summer's outrush of urbanites to the farther reaches of Long Island.
Alas you will also find something else there. "The Hamptons" has long been shorthand for consumption of Napoleonic extravagance, preening celebrity and a genral order of behavior that rises, at best, to narcissistic self-centeredness and bottoms out at brazen depravity. Last summer, the big story was Lizzie Grubman's contretemps outside a trendy bar in Southampton, when she allegedly mowed down several revelers with her SUV in a haughty temper tantrum. Now that another summer is upon us, we can doubtless look forward to more bad behavior.
Which is why it's good to have "Hamptons Bohemia," an engaging, and wonderfully illustrated, narrative of "artists and writers on the beach,' as the subtitle has it. Art historian Helen Harrison and English Prof. Constance Ayers Denne reclaim the Hamptons from "The Hamptons" by reminding us that part of the original attraction of this region, as early as the 18th century, was that it offered a place for serious people to escape the city and explore nature or their inner selves, or both, in relative peace.
The artist most often associated with the place is Jackson Pollock, the abstract expressionist painter who moved out to the Hamptons in 1945 and was killed 11 years later when the car he was driving in an alcohol-fueled fury veered off the road and into a tree. In point of fact, the roster of Hamptons artists is long and distinguished. It includes Winslow Homer, William Merritt Chase, Thomas Moran and, not least, Childe Hassam, whose famous beachscapes capture the dignified calm of the Hamptons shore early in the 20th century.
Willem de Kooning came out soon after Pollock, to be followed by Fairfield Porter, Andy Warhol and the shooting stars of the 1980s art boom, like Julian Schnabel and Ross Bleckner. Among the writers who have been drawn to the place are Melville, Whitman, James Fenimore Cooper, Ring Lardner, John Steinbeck and Edward Albee. Up to and during the rise of Sag Harbor as a whaling port in the late 18th century, art in the Hamptons consisted mainly of portraiture. Artists only began to turn their eyes to nature once the whaling industry declined a half-century later and the worthies could no longer afford their services. A half-century after that, in 1891, William Merritt Chase opened the Shinnecock Summer School to teach plein-air painting - that is, painting that starts and finishes outdoors, in a manner of the French Impressionists, rather than being composed in the studio from outdoor sketches.
Chase would never have started his school were it not for the advent of the railroad, which pushed along the Hamptons' rise as both a avacation retreat and an artists' colony. The first rail line opened in 1874, running only as far as Bridgehampton. Twenty years later it was exteded all the way to Montauk, thus ending the South Fork's relative isolation. A trip from New York that had once taken four days by coach and horses could not be done in a day.
Nature long informed the art that was made there, and not only Childe Hassam's or that of Chase and his school. After moving to the Sp