The light and landscape of Eastern Long Island have drawn artists to the region since the Long Island Railroad extended its service to Southampton in 1870. Members of New York’s Tile Club visited Bridgehampton, East Hampton, Montauk, Greenport, and Shelter Island in 1878, and William Merritt Chase established the Shinnecock Hills Summer School of Art, the first school in America devoted to plein-air painting, in 1891.
World War II saw the departure of many notable artists from Europe to the United States, and many of these émigrés visited the East End. American artists of the New York School followed, such Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, Willem de Kooning, and Esteban Vicente. For the past 60 years, the East End has been home to a veritable pantheon of modern and contemporary artists, among them Fairfield Porter, Larry Rivers, Jane Freilicher, Roy Lichtenstein, April Gornik, Cindy Sherman, Eric Fischl, and Dorothea Rockburne.
The Museum’s holdings now consist of more than 2,600 works ranging from early nineteenth-century landscape paintings through American Impressionism and into the twentieth- and twenty-first centuries. In addition to those names above, it includes such important artists as Childe Hassam, John Sloan, James Whistler, Dan Flavin, and John Chamberlain, as well as such members of the dynamic contemporary art scene as Ross Bleckner, Chuck Close, Elizabeth Peyton, Jack Youngerman, and Joe Zucker.
The William Merritt Chase Collection and Archives
The Parrish holds the largest public collection of William Merritt Chase (over 40 paintings and works on paper) and an extensive archive, including more than 1,000 photographs relating to the life and work of the artist, in particular family photographs of summers spent on the East End.
As portraitist and landscape painter, and as a teacher of art, Chase was unequalled in his day. Thus it was not surprising that when a group of Southampton boosters had the idea of improving the summer resort by establishing an art school—the Shinnecock Hills Summer School of Art—they chose the prominent artist to be the first teacher.
The Museum’s collection features paintings from all periods of his work, including the early Still Life with Fruit (1871), works from the famous New York park scenes series, notably Park in Brooklyn (c. 1887); major studio paintings from the 1880s, such as The Blue Kimono (c. 1888); and of course, the paintings made during those summers in the Shinnecock Hills, including The Bayberry Bush (c. 1895).
The Fairfield Porter Collection and Archives
Fairfield Porter was the most important American realist painter from 1949 until his death in 1975. Not coincidentally, these were the years when Porter lived in Southampton, and in 1979 his estate recognized the bond between the artist and the Museum by donating some 250 works to the Parrish collection.
Porter was both a gifted painter and an accomplished writer who produced some of the most lucid art criticism and commentary of the time, notably his reviews for the magazine Art News. He insisted that he painted what he saw rather than what he might assume to be there. Porter painted what he was familiar with—his family and friends and the places he lived and visited, including Southampton and a family-owned island off the coast of Maine where he had summered since childhood.
An artist who steadfastly maintained a figurative vision, Porter knew and admired many Abstract Expressionist artists on the East End, especially Willem de Kooning. Porter once wrote: "The realist thinks he knows ahead of time what reality is, and the abstract artist what art is, but it is in its formality that realist art excels, and the best abstract art communicates an overwhelming sense of reality."