This fall the Portland Museum of Art explores the art of Jay Hall Connaway (1893–1970) in the first major museum exhibition since his death. Moods of Nature: Jay Connaway and the Landscape of New England, on view September 19 through December 6, 2009, features 38 rarely seen works from private collections in Maine and Massachusetts. A student of the sky, waves, and snow-covered hills of Maine and Vermont, Jay Connaway belonged to the generation that presented the region as timeless and quiet in the face of modernity and ensured that the image of New England maintained a prominent role in the American imagination.
Connaway enjoyed a reputation as one of the most promising young marine painters of the 1920s. Prolific, well-known, and highly regarded both as an artist and a teacher, Connaway moved to Maine in 1922 and took up permanent residence on Monhegan Island with his wife Louise in 1931. For 17 years, Connaway observed and painted the ocean and its many moods in the tradition of Winslow Homer and Rockwell Kent before moving to Vermont in 1947 where he lived out his life.
Born in Indiana, Connaway studied in New York City at the Arts Students League under William Merritt Chase before interrupting his studies to volunteer for service in the First World War. Upon discharge from the army, Connaway studied in Paris at the Académie Julian and the École des Beaux-Arts before returning to the United States and settling in New England. Sticking to his guns as abstraction gained in popularity in the years after World War II, Connaway’s bold brushwork and subtle palate served as hallmarks of his unique style of masculine impressionism.
Connaway enjoyed close to 90 one-man shows in his lifetime. He was elected an associate of the National Academy of Design in 1933 and a full academician in 1943. His work was exhibited at the leading galleries of his day, including Macbeth, Vose, Kennedy, and Doll & Richards. In his own lifetime Connaway’s vision of the landscape of New England could be found hanging at the Art Institute of Chicago, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Corcoran Gallery of Art, and Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.