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The painting (above) as it was last touched by John, now on my easel here in Mystic.

Finishing a John Stobart Painting

I am deeply honored to have been asked by John Stobart’s widow (and head of the Stobart Foundation) to finish a painting of South Street (at his request) he was unable to complete before his passing early this year.  I will be regularly chronicling my progress finishing the piece using John’s notes, research, methods and materials in a series of blog posts, here:

Chapter 1: An Introduction (below)

Chapter 2: John’s Methods & Materials (link here)

Chapter 3: The Subject Matter Depicted (link here)

Chapter 4: What Needs to Be Done (link here)

Chapter 5: Starting the Painting Process (link here)

Chapter 6: Finishing the Downeaster (link here)

Chapter 7: Finishing the Black Schooner (link here)

Chapter 8: My Other All Time Hero (link here)

Chapter 9: From Blob to Barge (link here):

Chapter 10: Nearly Finished, And Discovering An Earlier Version Of The Painting (link here)

Chapter 11: Finally Finished (link here)

It was a thrill and a delight over the last decade to have been counted among John’s closest artist friends, a small circle of some of the worlds’s elite marine artists. For decades, John was the “GOAT” in our genre… a prolific producer of oil paintings, deeply researched and exquisitely executed, that chronicled America’s 19th and 20th century maritime history. If you are unfamiliar with John’s paintings and legacy, I suggest you visit any number of websites that celebrate his life and work, or read his New York Times obituary here. His original paintings brought record prices and the limited edition prints made from them sold out almost immediately. Large format books were produced about his images, and he wrote a few himself about his methods and materials. His “Worldscapes” TV series, following John’s painting adventures and tutorials around the world which aired originally on PBS, are now viewable YouTube. He had several major exhibitions throughout his career and won legions of fans, admirers and collectors. He co-founded the American Society of Marine Artists in 1978; I proudly served as it’s president for five years in the 2010s. Perhaps even more remarkable than the work itself was John’s charming life spirit and good humored generosity, an eagerness to share his knowledge and enthusiasm with others, and encouragement of young artists to pursue careers in representational art.

John was vigorous and painting almost daily into his 90s, often calling friends to check in, wish them well or offer words of praise, until a brief illness took him from us March of 2023.

Astonishing to me, John started but did not finish dozens of works over his career, abandoning one or another at different stages (some with just a few gestural brush strokes in a quick and loose sketch, up to ones like this, nearly finished except for rigging, figures and details upon details). Remarkably, unlike the way I approach my own work, John would change his mind about a major aspect of a painting very late in the process, scrape it off, move major elements around, and evolve his works organically. The painting above (and detail, below) which he titled “New York: Brooklyn Bridge from South Street in 1884” shows this kind of treatment; passages which were once likely brought to to a finished quality are now smudges and scrapes.

This closeup image clearly shows areas loosely sketched in; others appearing to have been scraped off and reconsidered. In a finished painting, of course, the ship’s hull details, bowsprit and tangles of rigging would complete a compelling scene within the scene. I clearly have my work cut out for me.

John had a small photograph of the work as it exists now, with an inscription in his delicate (and tiny!) handwriting on the back which reads:

“Still drastically incomplete. Note empty barrels arriving from all angles and being saved as deck cargo on schooners owned in the S.W… This shot was casually taken and is not ready to be seen… Many more people need to be added.” 

Special thanks to Anne Fletcher, also a dear friend, who has entrusted me with this project. A second, nearly-finished painting of Venice was completed this summer by the great English artist and friend J. Steven Dews.

Next, Chapter 2: John’s Methods & Materials (link here)

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