2009 Winter Catalog, William R. Talbot Fine Art, Antique Maps & Prints Home

2009 Winter Catalog > 2. Dwight, “Penitentes Church.

2. A Rare and Unusual Image of Northern New Mexico.

Mabel Dwight. “Penitentes Church,,” 1929. Lithograph. Image: 10 x 13 1/4." Sheet: 11 1/2 x 16." Titled by artist in pencil at l.c.: Penitentes Church. Signed and dated by artist in pencil at l.r.: Mabel Dwight—1929. Very light, even age toning. 1/4" marginal tear at l.l. Fine.

Price: SOLD.

A very important printmaker of the Depression Era, Mabel Dwight is known primarily for her Social Realist images of New York City, often satirical depictions crowded with comic and tragic figures. “Penitentes Church” is a striking departure for the artist—a scene devoid of figures that borders on an Expressionist representation. A snow-covered churchyard dominates the picture, with a simple adobe church behind, and mountains beyond. The rawness of the weathered crosses, their dynamic angles, and the sweeping mountains and clouds in the distance strongly contrast with the notion of a resting place.

The Penitentes of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado is a lay confraternity whose foundation dates to Mexican independence in 1821, when missionaries were withdrawn from the area. In the mid-nineteenth century, when the region became an American territory, Penitentes were driven underground and became a “secret society,” and then in the mid-twentieth century they were reconciled with the church. Mabel Dwight’s depiction and its title give a sense of the anonymity and seclusion of this community during their underground phase.

Mabel Dwight (1876–1955) was born in Cincinnati and raised in New Orleans and San Francisco where she attended the Hopkins School of Fine Art. Born Mabel Jacque Williamson, she was married to the artist Eugene Higgins for some time after moving to Greenwich Village in 1903. Following their separation, she assumed the name Dwight, and became a founding member of the influential Whitney Studio Club.

It was not until 1926, at the age of 52, that Dwight found her medium in lithography when she went to Paris to study with the printmaker Cuchatel. Her work was soon recognized with reproductions in Vanity Fair, a national touring exhibition, and prominence among artists represented by the Weyhe Gallery in New York City. Howard Cook, who was also represented by Weyhe Gallery, likely influenced other artists such as Dwight to visit New Mexico at the time (Adams). During the Great Depression, Dwight also participated in the Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA).

Dwight’s artworks are part of a number of important collections, including the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston, the Georgia Museum of Art in Athens, Harvard University Art Museums, the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington D.C., the Smithsonian Institution, and the U.S. Library of Congress. Another copy of the present print forms part of the collection of the Tamarind Institute in Albuquerque.

Refs.: Adams, Printmaking in New Mexico 1880–1990, p. 36, pl. 30; Amon Carter Museum of Western Art, An American Collection, p. 230; Georgia Museum of Art, The American Scene on Paper, p. 85–91; National Museum of Women in the Arts, The Permanent Collection, nmwa.org; Wolff, AngloModern, p. 31.

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