George Gale

‘A Sea-nurtured Artist’

George Gale: ‘A Sea-nurtured Artist’

Upper Level Rotating Galleries

Opened: April 27, 2019

Closed: January 16, 2020

The exhibition George Gale: ‘A Sea-nurtured Artist’, highlighted the whaling and maritime themes explored by Gale, one of the last important artists to document the New Bedford’s whale fishery from firsthand observation.

Drawing largely from the collection of James Harvie of Topsham, Maine, who was a boyhood neighbor, friend, and admirer of Gale when they both lived in Barrington, Rhode Island, Gale’s etchings and watercolors were augmented by objects from the collections of the Museum.

He formed a universe of detailed understanding of New Bedford’s maritime culture in the early 1920s. These details then emerge fully integrated into his formal works, particularly the etchings, and their lineage can be traced through the sketches. His level of documentary research is extraordinary.

While Gale’s sketchbooks are similar in many ways to those of other artists, with notes of all sorts accompanying the sketches in the predictable fashion, his are also obviously preparatory to getting the facts correct, not once or twice, but repeatedly, boldly, and from every angle. Everything is correct down to the knots. He thoroughly understood his subjects. Of all the maritime trades, whaling was easily the most fascinating and obviously captured his interest greatly. It was also a chapter of the American experience that was declining yearly in every way, and Gale, much like other artists of the period including Clifford W. Ashley and Clement Nye Swift saw it as a chance for future generations to “evoke an image,” of this curious, specialized, once far-reaching branch of American industry.