Questroyal Fine Art, LLC, New York, 2007
Private collection, New York, 2007
Northern Lights, 1931, oil on canvas, 49⅞ x 59½ inches; The Alaska Heritage Museum at Wells Fargo, Anchorage, Alaska
More than any other painter who has worked in Alaska to date, Sydney Laurence has captured the imagination of the dwellers on the last frontier, personifying for them the awesome beauty and mythic wonder of the place.
—Estill Curtis Pennington, art historian, 1997[i]
Every region in the United States has its favorite artist—a person who has successfully, over an extended period of time, captured the flavor and uniqueness of a particular time and place through the medium of paint on canvas. For many Alaskans, that artist is Sydney Laurence.
—Patricia B. Wolf, former director of the Anchorage Museum of History and Art, 1990[ii]
Evoking America's Last Frontier: Sydney Laurence was one of the first professionally trained artists to live and work in Alaska, and he is credited with applying tonalist techniques to capture America's northern terrain. Throughout his career, the artist represented the Alaskan wilderness as a vast land of untapped resources and unparalleled adventure. It was this vision that initially drew him to the territory. Of his sudden move to Alaska in 1904, Laurence admitted: "I was attracted by the same thing that attracted all the other suckers: gold. I didn't find any appreciable quantity of the yellow metal and then, like a lot of other fellows, I was broke and couldn't get away. So I resumed my painting. I found enough material to keep me busy the rest of my life and I stayed in Alaska ever since."[iii] Setting his speculative schemes aside, he devoted himself to painting. His depictions of the territory's stunning natural wonders and light effects are now iconic. At a time when the American landscape was increasingly threatened by industrialization, he represented Alaska as a pristine, final frontier where nature still triumphed over man. Northern Lights is characteristic of this relationship between man and nature. A small lighted cabin signals human presence, but the winter scene is dominated by one of Alaska's most distinct and awesome spectacles: the aurora borealis.
[i] Estill Curtis Pennington, Frontier Sublime: Alaskan Art from the Juneau Empire Collection (Augusta, GA: Morris Museum of Art, 1997), p. 29.
[ii] Patricia B. Wolf, "Foreword," in Kesler E. Woodward, Sydney Laurence: Painter of the North (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 1990), p. vii.
[iii] Sydney Laurence, quoted in Los Angeles Times, December 3, 1925.