Sea Gulls and Ferryboat
Sea Gulls and Ferryboat
Oil on canvas
20 x 30 inches
Wichita Art Museum, Museum purchase, Director's Discretionary Fund
Not Currently on Display
About the Artwork
The artist’s sensitivity to the spirit of the times is a trait, which in many respects distinguishes the artistic personality from all others. And it is this sensitivity which finds concrete, though not necessarily literal, expression in true art in contrast with illustration or imitative mannerism.
Certainly, this quality is notably documented in this painting, titled Sea Gulls and Ferryboat executed in 1943 by the American artist William Thon. Here the objective setting appears at first somewhat ambiguous. But clearly in the foreground is seen the end of a ferryboat with a snow-covered floor during the depth of winter. Across the railing and through a precarious opening, protected only by a rather flimsy folding metal gate, is a chilling view of the dark gray winter sea and the infinitely deep cloud-filled sky out of which a flock of sea gulls approaches the ferryboat. The absence of all human figures, the presence of long gloomy gray shadows and the use of somber neutral tones rather than vivid colors together evoke a mood of eeriness and disquietude that is further heightened by the predatory gulls hovering around the boat. In a very real sense this mood coincides with the tragic moment when the work itself was painted. The year was 1943, a year when the free world was deeply engaged in a contest for survival during World War II.
How beautifully this sense of threat and anxiety is expressed and how effectively these feelings allude to the troubled times. Yet no form in this work visually depicts any familiar representation of war per se. For what we see before us are not the literal signs of war but instead are symbols of the feelings associated with war. This is the language of the artist who speaks at a level of awareness far deeper than the eye alone sees. And during the early war years, William Thon was one of the most versatile American artists in the command of that language.
William Thon was born in New York in 1906. He studied at the Art Students League in 1924 and 1925 and has been the recipient of numerous awards both in America and in Europe. His works are included in both public and private collections throughout the world.