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 Harry Curieux Adamson  (1916 - )

About: Harry Curieux Adamson
 

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Lived/Active: California      Known for: wildlife, waterfowl, landscape and animal painting

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BIOGRAPHY for Harry Adamson
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Birth
1916
 
Lived/Active
California

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Often Known For
wildlife, waterfowl, landscape and animal painting

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following was published in "California Waterfowl", October/November 1999,

From Marsh to Mountain
A Book Review by Tony Arnold

Diane Inman's biography of Harry Adamson is what is known in the trade as a coffee table book.  In my house no cup of coffee will be allowed within 10 feet of it.

Imagine having at your fingertips a whole gallery of Harry's works, smaller than the originals of course, but covering far more wildlife subjects than most of us waterfowl addicts ever imagined of him.  Imagine being able to seek out at your leisure the tiny details that make Harry's art such a joy to examine with care: the hidden Eurasian wigeon mixed in with a flight of ours, the sneaky spoonie (usually pictured flying or swimming in the opposite direction from the painting's majestic sprig or mallard subjects), the modest coot casting his own critical eye over incoming waterfowl. Then turn to the Rocky Mountain sheep, the tropical birds, or even the one plate whose live subjects are just a pair of sleepy horses. And finally, from Diane's exhaustive research, learn about the man himself and how he became probably the foremost waterfowl artist in this country and perhaps in the world today.

Every one of Harry's plates demands careful attention. Every one rewards that attention with new discoveries. Yet, every one stands on its own as a superb overall composition.

For most of us dedicated hunters, waterfowl will be the primary game bird, or course. Here, there are others that make you reach convulsively for a non-existent gun as they sweep past or leap from hidden waters. But my own favorite has no connection with hunting. It is the pair of Audubon-like mergansers fishing a tidal pool, with a background of almost audible surf and palpable salt air.

I get an odd sense of challenge from these wonderfully meticulous works, and I finally found one technicality for which a life-long California resident such as Harry might be forgiven: red-legged black ducks in an East Coast October setting. The red legs are a hallmark of late-season northern birds, or were when I hunted them. Maybe that no longer holds true. (But thank you, Harry. You've given me the one tiny negative note that all reviewers are supposed to find.)

In the accompanying text, Diane chronicles Harry's long life, decade by decade, in great detail.  She describes the struggle of Harry and his wife Betty to launch his career in a highly competitive field, the voyages that they have taken together over the years to all corners of the earth, and the worldwide honors that have been given to him.  The text is liberally salted with quotes from well-known figures in the waterfowl world, from England's Peter Scott to many Californians familiar to us all. Here, my critique is her description of the late Charles ("Howdy") Allen merely as a Realtor.  A talented amateur waterfowl artist in his own right, Howdy was trapped in the real estate profession and hated it.  His two sons Wheat and Peter, however, fulfilled his destiny by becoming internationally known sculptors of wildlife. As Diane notes, Harry escaped Howdy's kind of fate thanks mostly to Betty's unflagging support and role as a breadwinner in their early years together. There but for the grace of God.


Biography from Oakland Museum:
The following, from the Oakland Museum, is a description of the exhibition "Wild Wings: The Waterfowl Art of Harry Curieux Adamson" in the Natural Sciences Special Gallery

Every fall, in California's largest wildlife spectacle, hundreds of thousands of ducks, geese, swans and shorebirds migrate south from Canada and Alaska to spend the winter in the wetlands of the Central Valley. Each spring they head north to spend a brief summer in the rich feeding grounds and protected nesting sites of the far north.

"Wild Wings: The Waterfowl Art of Harry Curieux Adamson", presents 45 original oil paintings, along with a number of sketches and early temperas, that span this Bay Area artist's 60-year career.  Many of the paintings, owned by private collectors, have never before been displayed in public.

The exhibition includes an examination of the nature of avian flight as revealed through the meticulously accurate imagery of the paintings. A custom sound environment for the exhibition uses recordings from the museum's California Library of Natural Sounds.

Adamson is described by internationally famous wildlife artist David Maass as "unsurpassed when it comes to portrayals of wildfowl on the wing in their natural surroundings." Wildlife artist Owen Gromme says Adamson is simply "one of the finest waterfowl artists in the world."

Still painting at age 86, Adamson is perhaps the oldest living wildlife artist today.  Throughout his lengthy career, Adamson has observed, studied and painted the colorful participants in the massive annual waterfowl migration.  Although best known for his landscapes awash with flocks of mallards and pintails, on occasion Adamson has painted bighorn sheep, condors and falcons, and the unusual and colorful tropical birds encountered during his many trips abroad. Examples of these are also included in the exhibition.

Part of the appeal of Adamson's paintings, says exhibition curator Tom Steller, is that, "He paints to the hunter's dream." Although Adamson has never been a hunter himself, many of his paintings, done from the position of a duck blind, evoke memories in the outdoors enthusiast, whether they be of an early-morning close-up view of a flock of mallards or of a stunning landscape experienced.  A lover of nature and the outdoors, Adamson has, over his lifetime, donated paintings and prints worth close to three million dollars to raise money for conservation causes.  Adamson was a founding member of the Mt. Diablo Audubon Society, which this year celebrated its 50th anniversary.

Viewed by critics in the early part of the century as "mere illustration," wildlife art has since gained in status and popularity, due in part to the emergence of an evocative realism in the artworks that goes far beyond mere illustration and in part to the current concern about vanishing habitats and species.  Biographer Diane Inman says, "Without a doubt, Adamson's work has contributed to the overwhelming acceptance of wildlife art in the 20th century."

Adamson's work has frequently been displayed nationally and internationally in the prestigious "Birds in Art" and "Animals in Art" exhibitions, and has been shown at the Smithsonian Art Museum, the British Museum and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, among others.  He was named the first California Waterfowl Association Artist of the Year and 1979 Ducks Unlimited Artist of the Year.

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