Max Kahn The Ferry to Wood's Hole (1963)
oil on canvas 40.0 x 48.0 x 0.0
University Club of Chicago

Kahn the ferry to wood's hole 1963

Kahn moved to the United States in order to study at the School of The Art Institute of Chicago. He also studied in Paris under Despiau and Bourdelle. KahnХs works were included in the 1939 WorldХs Fair in New York and in exhibitions at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art and The Art Institute of Chicago.

Max Kahn was head of Chicago's WPA Art Print Department with Eleanor Cohn at The Art Institute of Chicago in 1930's to early 1940. His WPA prints and paintings are located in 18 major art museums in the US including The Art Institute of Chicago, the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Detroit Institute of Art, the Newark Art Museum, Philadelphia Museum of Art, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and many others. The composition is based on KahnХs work at MarthaХs Vineyard.

Max Kahn was a devoted artist who worked in his studio until the age 100, and lived to see longer. His artistic practice transformed lithography’s place in the then contemporary American art world into a medium of serious professionalism and artistic endeavor.  Kahn (1902-2005) was born in Slonim, Russia in 1902, and at age six his parents moved to Peoria, Illinois. In the 1920s, after graduating from Bradley College with his art degree, he studied sculpture in Paris. He attended graduate school at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) where he studied under Francis Chapin and worked in both printmaking and painting. From the early 1930s to 1940s, Kahn and his wife, artist Eleanor Coen, were the head of Chicago’s WPA Art Print Department at the Art Institute of Chicago. In the 1930s and 40s, his work differed dramatically from the American Scene Painting and printmaking that were dominant at the time. His lithography had an idiosyncratic fluid, relaxed, and loose approach that felt distinctly much like painting. His process was also exceedingly labor intensive and entailed grinding his own stone, color, and inks. For some lithography practices, color is added after an image is created, but Kahn mapped his color choice from the beginning and used colored ink through the initial image creation. In the 40s, he cultivated an interest in surrealism and traveled with his wife to Mexico. In 1946, he exhibited a show of color lithography at the Weyhe Gallery in New York, which was a critical moment in his reorientation of lithography as a serious professional art form equal to painting or sculpture. He was highly successful in the commercial art world for his paintings, sculpture, and print work. In the 1960s and 70s, Kahn found inspiration taking summer retreats to Martha’s Vineyard. During his career, he taught at both SAIC and the University of Chicago. In Chicago art history, Kahn’s influence is situated in his impactful affect as an art educator, his fervor for creating art, and his superior visual language, technique, and fearlessness.   

The Ferry to Wood’s Hole (1963) is from the period in the 1960s when Kahn was enlivened by his summer retreats to Martha’s Vineyard. In this composition, the vantage point looks out from the shoreline across the open water where one observes a distant ferryboat on the hazy horizon line that leads to Wood’s Hole at Martha’s Vineyard. The light opaque tones of the boat make it almost invisible, like a mirage in the distance. The horizon line lies high on the upper edge of the composition, and coupled with the small scale of the ferryboat, there is an illusion of depth across the scene that implies the boat is remote from its destination. The azure constant color in the water encourages a docile tranquility to the scene. This is mirrored in the clear light grey sky, which is only slightly peppered with thin pale clouds in the upper left and right corners of the composition. In the lower half of the composition, Kahn employs texture, shape, and color, to render an abstracted shoreline spotted with peculiar shaped rocks. The edge of the shore curves upwards to a point at the center left of the canvas, delineating a visual line that leads focus out towards the water. Bristly and unkempt, the reedy blades of grass coarsely tangle the shoreline and expose the brown earth beneath. Three abstract shapes sit atop the shoreline and in the water, as if surveying in expectation of the distant boat to arrive. Each abstract form is white with textured strokes of deeper cream and light gray, and reference large rocks scattered across the land and sea. The color and form of the rocks also parallel the light color and shape of the boat on the horizon creating a synchronicity across the composition. There is an interpretive sense of calm and hopefulness in Kahn’s simplified rendering of the impending arrival of the ferry. While this is a seascape, perhaps the work is also semi-autobiographical in portraying his sense of peace and relaxation while on vacation at Martha’s Vineyard.

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