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William Thon: A Retrospective


William Thon (1906-2000) is regarded as one of Maine's most distinguished artists. William Thon: A Retrospective is a celebration of this artist's remarkable life, spirit, and creativity. Through a selection of more than 50 works which span six decades, this exhibition traces Then's career and creative achievements, from his earliest oils to his powerful final watercolors. William Thon: A Retrospective will be on view at the Portland Museum of Art February 9 through May 27, 2002.

Primarily a self-taught artist, William Thon first attained national recognition with the acceptance of his oil painting The Creek in the 1939 Corcoran Biennial, then one of the most prestigious juried art shows in the country. Following this achievement, Thon was repeatedly invited to participate in other biennials across the country. Even with the onset of America's participation in World War II and his enlistment in the U. S. Navy, Thon's career was not interrupted.

In December of 1942, while Then was defending his country, a patriotic group, Artists for Victory, organized an exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art to support the war effort. Thon's oil painting East Wind was accepted for inclusion in the exhibition, where it attracted the attention of Alan Gruskin, director of the Midtown Galleries in New York, who then exclusively represented Thon for the next 40 years. (left: William Thon, United States (1906-2000), Costa Brava Spain #6, 1958, oil on canvas, 22 x 36 inches, Portland Museum of Art, Gift of John and Joanne Payson, 1993.16)

Gruskin became more than the artist's dealer -- he was also his friend, advocate, and biographer, and he encouraged the artist to apply to the American Academy in Rome for a fellowship. In October of 1947, the artist won the Prix de Rome, and he and his wife of then 18 years, Helen, traveled to Italy for one year. Thon later claimed this "to be the most significant happening in my career."

Whereas Thon's early works were primarily dark, moody, representational oils, the experience in Europe opened up the artist's palette and expressionist style. In addition, the artist began to experiment with watercolors and later developed his trademark watercolor and resist technique. Thon, who had been inspired by periodic visits to Maine early in his career, moved permanently to Port Clyde, Maine in 1945. He continued to paint with his trademark watercolor style until his death in December 2000 at the age of 94.

An illustrated catalogue, with an essay by Susan C. Larsen documenting William Thon's important contributions to 20th-century American art, will be available in the Museum Shop.

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