Wind of the Sea - The Harriet McGregor (1970)
Oil on Canvas
40.0 x 50.0 x 0.0
University Club of Chicago
The swells, curls, and crashes of waves that Charles Vickery (1913-1988) captured in his paintings offers an awe inspiring view of the power and pulse of water. He dedicated his practice to making water come to life across the canvas, and in this choice, one sees the infinite ways that one subject matter can captivate someone’s career. Charles Vickery was born in Hinsdale, Illinois. Embracing his artistic interests, Vickery studied at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the American Academy of Fine Arts.
As a young student, artists such as Frederick Waugh, Winslow Homer, and Montague Dawson inspired him, but his biggest artistic influence was Lake Michigan, enthralling him throughout his career. Vickery had his first studio in 1937 in West Springs, Illinois, where he also worked side jobs to supplement his early artistic career. He believed in observation as the starting point for painting, and spent countless hours watching the infinite shifts and changes across Lake Michigan and other bodies of water.
Vickery did not document with a camera, but relied on his memory and sketches for creative inspiration when later completing a work in his studio. In the early 1950s, he broadened his Midwest horizons and traveled on a freighter as far as Turkey.
Traveling became a steady component to his practice, and he ventured by train to the East Coast multiple times a year. His practice and innate ability to capture the fear and beauty of water gained him notoriety, and his work was regularly exhibited and collected both nationally and internationally. In Chicago art history, Vickery’s work is a testament to the bountiful inspiration of Lake Michigan, and he was also a dedicated arts patron, supporting organizations that served the arts community for generations to come.
Wind of the Sea-The Harriet McGregor (c. 1970) is from a mid point in Vickery’s career.
The turbulent beauty of the open sea is rendered with magnificent clarity in this painting of a ship navigating across a wind filled sea. Built by Alexander McGregor, the Harriet McGregor was a British cargo ship that traversed numerous voyages, was led by many captains, and after being sold to Danish owners her history was documented in British news articles and one small history book.
In the painting, the horizon line is slightly below the midpoint of the canvas, with the skyline filling more than half the composition. Water cascades from the lower half of the composition off the edge of the bottom canvas, giving a sense of endlessness to the open sea. Along the horizon, a double mast sea vessel travels the choppy waters as wind pushes from the right of the composition. This understanding of direction and movement is created through the use of texture and line in the composition. Across the water, Vickery created thick strokes of blue tones that swell upward into outbursts of light yellow and white strokes, which evokes the turbulence of waves as they break into frothy white foam.
The waves break towards the left of the composition, which mirrors the billowing curves of each sail in the vessel and informs the viewer that the wind blows in from the right side of the canvas. Light and color portray the duality of unpredictable danger and overwhelming beauty that are married in open waters. A light, golden yellow sun pushes through the dark, cloudy sky in the center of the composition, falling across the top edges of the white sails and center of the vessel with a golden crown. The breaching light gives the sense of an impending or completed storm.
The relationship between the ship and the open waters also encourages the balance between danger and beauty in the scene. The large vessel is almost engulfed by the open water, with a wave crashing on its right side and water streaming out from the front of the ship. Men are positioned across and around the vessel in active positions and this enhances the delicate balance between the boat and the surrounding rough seas. Each man, while integral to the ship’s success, appear so small in relation to his surroundings; it is as if they could get lost at any moment. In this, Vickery harnessed the indelible power of water and the brave voyagers that traverse its many moods.