seacoast lane

F.H. McKay, b. 1880, "Seacoast Lane" (oil painting on masonite) 47 x 37 cm Impressionist style of painting reproduced on Duco jigsaw puzzles in the 40s & 50s,Frances H McKay, a female artist born in 1880 (date of death unknown) in Rockport, Maine. She painted primarily coastal scenes (usually with trees and houses along a path leading to the ocean).

 

 

F.H. F. McKay: A Nostalgic Inquiry

by Ralph Slatton, posted 10/22/2011


Each of us holds a special memory from childhood. Sometimes it's an image from a movie, or perhaps a special children's book character; for me, it is a picture on a zigsaw puzzle. I speak of an image of a painting on a popular puzze from the early 50's. I believe the puzzle company was called Tuco. My Mom, sister, and I spent many hours piecing that puzzle. I was also intrigued by the peaceful coastal scene, painted in the impressionist style. Its shaded street led to a misty seacoast. Many years later, I became an artist and I had to revisit this scene of my childhood. I soon discovered that there was very little written about the artist, F. H. Mckay. This article is a personal inquiry in hopes that someone might provide me with more information about this fine impressionist.

 

Impressionism Claude Monet Impression Sunrise

The impressionist movement began in the 19th century with a group painters based in Paris. One of the more prominent figures was Claude Monet who painted, soleil levant or "Impression, Sunrise." (shown on right) as the painting that helped to coin the saterical title, "impressionism" in a review published in the Parisian newspaper, Le Charivari, in 1874. Impressionist style was typically characterized by its use of small brushstrokes and rich colors, applied in close proximity to each other, often referred to as broken color. The painter avoided the carefully blended layers and over-glazes used by the academic painters. By keeping the colors vibrant and raw, the viewer would be forced to mix the hues visually. Some common colors of impressionists were cobalt blue, cerulean blue, synthetic ultramarine, emerald green, viridian, chrome yellow, vermilion, and crimson lake. They worked from the theory of complementary colors, in which colors were opposite each other on the color wheel.

 

Monet said: “Color owes its brightness to force of contrast rather than to its inherent qualities (primary colors) look brightest when they are brought into contrast with their complementaries.”


Monet documented the way he observed the colors of nature in his following quote: “I’m chasing the merest sliver of color. It’s my own fault, I want to grasp the intangible. It’s terrible how the light runs out, taking color with it. Color, any color, lasts a second, sometimes three or four minutes at a time. What to do, what to paint in three or four minutes. They’re gone, you have to stop. Ah, how I suffer, how painting makes me suffer! It tortures me.” He further stated: “It’s on the strength of observation and reflection that one finds a way. So we must dig and delve unceasingly.” “When you go out to paint, try to forget what objects you have before you, a tree, a house, a field or whatever. Merely think here is a little square of blue, here an oblong of pink, here a streak of yellow, and paint it just as it looks to you, the exact color and shape, until it gives you own na├»ve impression of the scene before you.”


The House On Seacoast Lane

Unfortunately, there is little written about F. H. McKay. I was only able to accumulate a few descriptive lines regarding this painter. What little information that exists is from several online auction sites, art and geneology forums. I have absolutely no confirmed documentation for the facts below, so consider this information as "hear say." From what I could gather, McKay's full name was Frances H McKay, an artist born in 1880 (date of death unknown) in Rockport, Maine. There is conflicting information of the gender of McKay. Although several refer to McKay as male, there was mention of this artist appearing in the Washington-based "Women In American Art" organization. http://www.genealogyboard.com/mckay/messages/1698.html, so I will default to this consensus in my article. McKay painted primarily coastal scenes (usually with trees and houses along a path leading to the ocean). Many of the paintings also had figures in them.

 

In regards to the featured McKay painting at the top of this page, one description found for "Seacoast Lane" was as follows:

"Seacoast Lane" by the well known female artist F. H. McKay, born 1880 (date of death unknown) Cute little framed print of an idyllic tree lined street with charming cottage style homes, one with a white picket fence. There is an older person strolling along with a walking stick and in the near distance is the sea. Pretty colors and sweet old fashioned charm! Measures 5 1/2" wide by 4 1/2" and the frame is 3/4" thick. Signed F. H. McKay

 

Below is a link to an auction which has concluded some years ago. As I look at the image, I question whether this is original. The brush strokes textures appear too regular, which may suggest that it is a reproduction. I also wonder about the masonite board. Although boards were sometimes used by painters, this appears not conventional for a typical McKay painting.

Sea Coast Lane - Bid or Buy Auction

 

Here are several comments I found on various forums. I am reprinting it here in hopes that it may provide clues for future research. If there are copyright issues in reprinting this here, please contact me for its removal:

 

"The subjects are all very similar - coastal scenes. Some of the scenes are very reminiscent of Maine, while others could be from the English countryside or the south of France. On the back of one painting was information that the artist had spent time in both places. Often, the paintings have figures with dress that looks more European than American. In all cases, the dress is that of simple folk. With all the collecting I have done, the artist remains a mystery to me. I am still actually confused as to whether the F is for Frances or Francis and I have seen both. In one posting for an auction, it referenced that F.H. McKay's works were on display at the 1939 World's Fair in New York."

 

There are yet some comments not to sure of the gender of the artist:

(I found this entry in one of the forums. McKay was referred to as male by this writer:)

"F. H. McKay worked in the first half of the 20th century in and around the New England area. His paintings are primarily of the quaint houses, farms, and towns typical of that area. His paintings can be found ranging in size from a small 8x10 on board to larger canvas pieces. Also, prints of his oil paintings were sometimes made. He sold quite frequently to tourists visiting the area who wanted to take home a reminder of their vacation. Prices for his paintings range from the low hundreds up to 2 or 3 thousand for a large oil on canvas in an original frame. His pieces turn up now and agin at some of the established east coast auction houses and a good deal can be found on eBay from time to time. Sadly, not much biographical information has turned up on him yet."


Puzzled Beginnings tuco puzzle

As mentioned earlier, my first encounter with F. H. McKay was through one of my childhood possessions, a jigsaw puzzle manufactured by Tuco in the early 50s. This raises some interesting questions, as to how this painting became an important part of our popular culture through the Tuco company. I am very curious as to what possible connections this company may have with the artist or the artist's family. Perhaps it was chosen only because of its subject matter. Afterall, impressionist paintings were popular as reproduction or assembly-line paintings, probably due to their pleasant imagery and soothing color schemes. They make excellent color accessories for interiors of homes and seldom distract from color schemes or interior themes.


Without uncovering concrete evidence, I can only speculate the possiblities Undoubtedly, F.H. McKay will continue to fulfill my nostagia of those idealized villages, with their picket fences, seacoast cottages, shady streets that end near the sea, and strolling couples forever frozen in the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.