Not the least of the many extraordinary about the Fairfield Porter retrospective, which Kenworth Moffett recently organized at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, was the way it resulted—overnight, as it were—in a sweeping transformation of the artist’s reputation and status.[1] It is one of the functions of a retrospective exhibition, of course, to enlarge our understanding of an artist’s work, and this often leads to some modification in our estimate of his achievement. But it is rare, all the same, for such exhibitions to produce the kind of prompt and categorical change in critical opinion that greeted this show. Porter, who died in 1975 at the age of sixty-eight, did not lack for serious admirers in his lifetime. Among certain painters and poets, as among certain critics and collectors, his work had for years commanded an almost...


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