George Gale: ‘A Sea-nurtured Artist’

Upper Level Rotating Galleries
Exhibition Dates:
April 27, 2019 – mid-January 2020

The exhibition “George Gale: ‘A Sea-nurtured artist,’” highlights 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 will be augmented by objects from the collections of the Museum.

George-Gale-Discharging-the-oil 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.

 

Caption: George Albert Gale, Discharging the Oil, Etching on paper, numbered “12”, undated. Combining his three favorite themes, nautical New Bedford, whaling, and horses, “Discharging the Oil” offers a superb glimpse into the mind and perceptions of its maker. For such a common practice, few such images exist of the process by which the large casks of oil, some as large as 200 gallons weighing one ton, were raised from the hold of the ship and deposited onto the wharves.