With this work and others, Fairfield Porter joins such artists as Winslow Homer, George Bellows, John Marin, and Yvonne Jacquette in contributing to the artistic legacy of the Maine landscape. Maine's natural beauty has long drawn artists and vacationers alike. The source of this particular scene is Great Spruce Head Island, four miles off the coast in Penobscot Bay, where Porter spent almost all his summer vacations between 1913 and 1975. In 1912, his father, James E. Porter, an architect in Illinois, purchased the island as a family retreat. Over the years, the elder Porter designed and built a farmhouse, a large cottage, and a barn. The artist's attachment to the place was rooted in his sense of self as well as family history. He stated that "going to Maine always excites me as much as going to Europe. It has all kinds of emotions attached to it for me: the island stands for my personal golden age (my childhood) and in addition it is very beautiful."
From 1949 on, Porter divided his time between the island in Maine and his home in Southampton, New York, on Long Island's south fork. In both locales, his compositions naturally incorporated water and beaches, although he produced a large number of paintings featuring room interiors as well as portraits of family and friends. In each one, his approach is as gentle and unassuming as his subject matter. They are images of quiet ordinariness, in whose familiarity he found beauty.
This painting demonstrates the manner in which Porter lyrically balanced narrative and formal concerns. In its muted coloring and familial atmosphere, "The Kittiwake and the John Walton" reflects the influence of the early-twentieth-century French artist Edouard Vuillard. Although based on a specific scene, the focus of the painting seems to be as much on the harmonious arrangement of color and shape as on the narrative elements of boats in the bay. The title of the painting refers to the names of two boats.