In Situ: The Painted Panels

  • Please note: the Museum & Café will be closed Wednesday, June 19 in observance of Juneteenth.

Willard Metcalf (1858 – 1925)

Beach and Headlands

Twice the size of the landscape and the floral still life beneath it, this scene is a near twin to a painting Ebbing Tide, Version 2 (currently in the collection of the Farnsworth Museum in Rockport, Maine) that Metcalf did in Maine during the late summer of 1907 and gave to artist Frank Benson.

It is possible, then, to approximate a date for the panel. Metcalf arrived at the Griswold House for his third season on September 11, 1907, was there through at least October, and never stayed there again. He could have painted the panel in New York afterwards, but the panels that artists took to the city to work on in 1907 would have been finished by the following spring.


Willard Leroy Metcalf (1858-1925) Ebbing Tide, Version 2, 1907 Oil on canvas, Collection of Farnsworth Museum, Rockland, Maine, Gift of the Estate of Mrs. Sylvania Benson Lawson, 1982. The easel painting differs from the panel in that the easel painting is nearly square, has more sky, and less land at the left.

The panel has lighter colors, and there are more of them, as in the touches of violet, green, and gold in the water.The surf is also whiter on the panel. The rocky headland is less clearly defined, however, and Metcalf eliminated some small boats that were near the far shore in the easel painting. Both paintings are compelling portrayals of the meeting of land, sea, and sky that humans often sense as elemental and profound. (A painting of another island in Maine by Old Lyme artist Charles Ebert of Monhegan Headlands in the Museum’s collection is another variation on the theme.)

It was in July 1907 that Metcalf’s young wife ran off from the Griswold House with fellow art colonist Robert Nisbet, a former student of Metcalf’s.

Devastated and humiliated, Metcalf also left Old Lyme soon afterward and headed for Southport, Maine. On August 20 he wrote to Florence Griswold and informed her that he was suffering “a slight indisposition of the nerves” and would stay with his artist friend Frank Benson at North Haven, Maine. Benson and his family gave Metcalf much needed comfort, and he gave them the painting of Penobscot Bay that he completed during his stay and chose to replicate on this panel.