Bernard Langlais Collection

Bernard Langlais Collection

Comprising 187 works, the Bernard Langlais Collection traces the remarkable trajectory of Langlais’s career from his student days at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture to his late years in Cushing, Maine. Helen Friend Langlais, the artist’s widow and the steward of his art for the more than 30 years that she outlived him, gave all but six of these works to the Colby Museum. The first gifts were given in the 1980s, including Eagle, ca. 1964 (a familiar fixture of Colby’s Miller Library), and the imposing Auk, 1977.  In 2010, following a major bequest of Mrs. Langlais’s estate to Colby College, the Museum acquired 175 works by the artist, including 21 oil paintings, 65 works in wood, and more than 90 works on paper. Other gifts from Alex Katz, Jill Kornblee, Patricia Davidson Reef, and Peter and Paula Lunder round out the Bernard Langlais Collection.

PLEASE NOTE: Not all works in the Colby Museum collection are on view at any given time. If you have a question about works on view, please call 207-859-5600 prior to visiting. 

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Biography of Bernard Langlais

Bernard Langlais (1921–1977) was born in Old Town, Maine. He showed an early proclivity for drawing and left Maine after high school to study commercial art at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C. He earned scholarships to the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture and the Brooklyn Museum Art School, as well as a Fulbright Scholarship to study the paintings of Norwegian artist Edvard Munch in Oslo. Working in New York in the 1950s, Langlais developed a modernist painting style characterized by landscapes and still lifes with bold colors and flattened perspectives, while also experimenting with hard-edge abstraction and Abstract Expressionism.

In 1956, while renovating his summer cottage in Cushing, Maine, Langlais was captivated by working with scraps of wood, which he arranged to create a mosaic-like wall composition. He termed the process “painting with wood” and emphatically abandoned oil painting to explore this new medium. His abstract wood reliefs caught the attention of the New York art world; they were included in the watershed exhibition New Forms, New Media at the Martha Jackson Gallery in 1960 and in a solo exhibition at Leo Castelli Gallery in 1961.

By the mid-1960s, Langlais became disenchanted with New York gallery culture. Interested in working on a larger scale, he purchased a farmhouse in Cushing and moved permanently to his native state. In the last 11 years of his life, he constructed more than 65 monumental wood sculptures on the land around his home, including his best-known commission, the 70-foot-tall Indian for the town of Skowhegan, Maine. During this period he also produced a massive oeuvre of two- and three-dimensional works exploring the patterns, textures, and expressive powers of the animal kingdom.