Cape Cod School of Art

Posted in Visual Arts on Jun 18, 2010


Cape Cod (credit:bill daniels,

The Cape Cod School of Art is:
a) where you learn how to airbrush a tourist’s name onto a t-shirt
b) the first school in America to focus solely on Impressionist painting principles
c) an important piece of American art history

The answer is B and C, though airbrushing schools do exist. (who knew?!)

I’ve just come from nearly 2 weeks in gorgeous New England, first on Cape Cod and then in Vermont. Having been to these places many times, I’m familiar with the fact that there’s no shortage of art galleries, which is perfectly logical because the natural beauty of these areas would inspire even the creatively-challenged.

During this visit, my sister (who gets to live in Vermont full time) shared a Vermont Life magazine article about Edward Hopper’s paintings depicting the area of Vermont where she lives. His bucolic Vermont paintings came as a surprise — they are a far cry from the starkness of one of Hopper’s most famous works, Nighthawks. He also spent time on Cape Cod and painted there. Spurred on by this revelation of a nature-loving Hopper, I decided to look into a slice of Cape Cod’s artistic roots to learn more.

Edward Hopper, "Nighthawks"

Edward Hopper, "White River at Sharon" (vermont)

Edward Hopper, "Hill, South Truro" (cape cod)

Turns out that Claude Monet, who is credited with creating Impressionist painting, had a lot to do with Cape Cod art. Monet was in the first wave of artists who painted en plein air, which is the arty way of saying “outdoors.” The birth of plein air painting came about thanks to the development of portable paints that wouldn’t dry out in their containers. Additionally, new bright pigments were offered and became a hallmark of Impressionism. Prior to this era, paint was more brown and tonal.

Monet, "Water Lilies (The Clouds)"

The artist William Merritt Chase is credited as a leader of the American Impressionist movement. He founded the Chase School, which later became Parsons The New School of Design. Chase was a teacher to Charles Hawthorne, who started the Cape Cod School of Art in 1899. Artists interested in plein air painting and in learning how to bring light and atmosphere to the canvas flocked to the school in Provincetown on Cape Cod.

William Merritt Chase, "In Brooklyn Navy Yard"

Although the school itself no longer has a home, the teachings and the work live on. If you happen to be traveling to the area, the Cape Cod Museum of Art has an exhibition through January 2, 2011 called “The Art of Cape Cod – 200 Years.”

If you won’t be making it that way, below is a little gallery of work from the Cape Cod School of Art, the first American school  devoted exclusively to Impressionist ideals and plein air painting.

- lm

Charles Hawthorne, "Provincetown Wharf"

Charles Hawthorne, "Green Sky Landscape"

(student&teacher at the Cape Cod School of Art) Henry Hensche, "Ada in Sunlight"

Henry Hensche, "Town Hall, Provincetown, MA"

Hawthorne teaching plein air painting, 1910

  • 2 responses to "Cape Cod School of Art"

  • lenore
    21st June 2010 at 11:21

    That’s amazing news, Hilda! Thanks for the info and here’s to a successful campaign to keep the school a significant force in the art world!

  • Hilda Neily
    21st June 2010 at 10:07

    Hi, found this by accident and want to let you know that,we,the students of Hensche , had our first meeting yesterday to make the Cape School a non profit . Our ultimate goal is to aquire a facility where we can teach and house scholarship students……, we are alive and well and ensureing the school will continue here in Provincetown.Thanks for your positive comments. We need supporters! Thanks, hilda neily