Although they never met, modernist painters Dorothy Eisner (1906-1984) and Patrick McArdle (1915-1997) have much in common. They both studied at the Art Students League, one of the country’s most influential arts institutions. And they both came of age during the first half of the 20th century, a time of change and experimentation in the art world. The impact on Eisner and McArdle of the great European modernists Matisse and Cezanne and American modernists Milton Avery and John Marin cannot be understated.
Dorothy Eisner spent her early years in New York City, where she became an active participant in New York’s arts community. Unlike many female artists of her time, she had considerable success showing her paintings at some of that city’s great galleries, including Alfred Stiglitz’s Opportunity Gallery. Accompanied by her husband John McDonald, Eisner also enjoyed traveling abroad, especially to Mexico.
Over the years, Eisner tried several different paintings styles, but it wasn’t until she discovered Cranberry Island, a small island off the much larger Mount Desert Island in Maine, that she came fully into her own. Cranberry Island’s vibrant and friendly artist community gave Eisner the confidence she needed. Her paintings became more colorful—and playful. She painted her friends, family, and neighbors, swimming, diving, boating, and playing croquet. Her “Camp Basketball” paintings are delightful and engaging images of young girls in sailor suits playing basketball. And her “Exercise” paintings, depicting her Cranberry island neighbors struggling with some rather awkward looking stretches, can bring on a smile if not an outright laugh.
Patrick McArdle was born in England and spent his early years in Ireland. After emigrating to the United States, he focused on New York City, first for his education and then, as with Eisner, finding success at several prestigious galleries. McArdle paintings were featured in shows at both the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Modern Art.
After discovering Harpswell, Maine became Patrick McArdle’s touchstone. He had always enjoyed painting people at play, but as with Eisner, his paintings lightened and brightened after he made Maine his home. McArdle was a great observer of people, particularly people at the beach and people skating. McArdle’s gaily attired beach goers slather on sun-tan lotion and play beach volleyball with abandon, while his skaters twirl and spin on their skates, and his basketball players jump for joy.
Although their paths never crossed, Dorothy Eisner and Patrick McArdle both expressed humor and a zest for life through their paintings. We can imagine both smiling gently as they watched people at play, people at their most uninhibited.
“People at Play: Paintings from the Estates of Dorothy Eisner and Patrick McArdle” runs through November 27 at Gleason Fine Art. For more information, call the gallery at 207-633-6849 or email the gallery at firstname.lastname@example.org.