Seascapes: Catboats on the Sound

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Two catboats run before an afternoon zephyr, returning home at the end of a day’s sail. There’s a delicate luminosity, a glow of diffused light, a sense of gentle movement in Peter Arguimbau’s 20-by-30 oil painting. It’s a simple work, but the story behind it is complex and delves deep into art history.

Oil painting by Peter Arguimbau.

Arguimbau calls himself a luminist, after a group of artists from the second generation of the Hudson River School, a 19th-century art movement. These American artists had a painting style characterized by capturing the effects of light on landscapes, attention to detail and a contemplative perception of nature. Frederic Edwin Church, John Frederick Kensett and Sanford Robinson Gifford were among this group of artists.

Arguimbau studied under master Italian restorer Piero Mannoni, learning how to make paints to match the finishes of the works they restored. He continues that tradition by grinding his own pigments and mixing them with oil. He uses a traditional white lead preparation for his panels and has developed oil-resinous mediums that he believes give his paintings a luminosity, in the tradition of 15th- and 16th-century Flemish masters, that can’t be achieved any other way.

“They used the relationship between opacity, transparency, detail, object and abstraction to create a reality by itself, a virtual reality, using only paint,” says Arguimbau, whose studio is in Greenwich, Connecticut. “I’m carrying on the tradition of the Hudson River School, using glazes to achieve that three-dimensionality.”

Catboats on the Sound “has a luster. It’s alive. It sparkles,” Arguimbau says. “There’s luminosity, depth. It has its own reality, and that’s what the masters wanted to do.”

The boats are based on Arguimbau’s 28-foot catboat, Molly Rose, which Erford Burt built in 1935 at Vineyard Haven Boat Yard in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. “I use her as my summer studio,” he says. “[Molly Rose] has a 10-by-12-foot cockpit, and I test my painting mediums for permanence on the brightwork.

“I love painting boats,” he adds.

To view this and other works by Peter Arguimbau visit the J. Russell Jinishian Gallery website at jrusselljinishiangallery.com or visit the gallery at 1899 Bronson Road in Fairfield, Connecticut.

This article originally appeared in the July 2017 issue.