The Guide

Frank Weston Benson grew up in Salem, Massachusetts, where he explored, fished, and hunted the nearby salt marshes, waterways, and fields. He became a leading figure within the American impressionist movement and was recognized for the masterful rendering of light in his paintings. In the early twentieth century, Benson turned his attention to the sporting subjects he had identified with since his youth, producing numerous etchings of game birds and sporting scenes. Although Benson shifted from his colorful impressionist palette to one of black and white for his intaglio work, he clearly did not abandon his instinct for expressing light, a prominent element in this etching, The Guide.

Soft shadows and thin outlines distinguish a guide’s figure wading through calm water in this minimalistic piece. Leaving most of his etching plate unaltered, Benson utilizes the natural white of the paper to flood the image with light. In doing so, he conveys a sense that the sky is reflecting off the water’s still surface, blurring the boundary between water and air. Only the gentle ripples that form behind the guide as he steps through the water provide any semblance of the figure’s orientation within the landscape. In its simplicity, The Guide is an insightful portrait. The same light that unites sky and water softy illuminates the guide’s figure as he becomes immersed within the scene, evoking a sense that in this moment, the natural world is inseparable from his being.

Frank Weston Benson (American, 1862–1951)
The Guide, 1920
drypoint on Hodamura paper