The best American Impressionist painters

Everyone knows the French impressionists: Claude Monet, August Renoir, Camille Pissarro, Edgar Degas, Alfred Sisley, and (even though she was born in Pittsburgh) Mary Cassatt.

They’re famous — but what about the Americans? This art museum junkie thought he’d make a modest list of the ten American impressionists whose paintings he has enjoyed the most.

hassam-the-breakfast-room-worcester

Hassam's "The Breakfast Room," at the Worcester Art Museum

1. Childe Hassam. We begin with the best-known American impressionist, Childe Hassam, who despite his exotic-sounding name was from an old Boston family. Hassam was a prolific worker, and Emsworth has seen more of his work than of any other American impressionist. Most American museums have at least one Hassam. In fact, he’s is the only American impressionist whose work we’ve ever seen in a major retrospective exhibition (it was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the summer of 2004).

hassam-rainy-day-fifth-avenue-princeton2

Hassam's "Rainy Day, Fifth Avenue," at the University of Princeton Art Museum

In our humble view, the quality of Hassam’s paintings is decidedly mixed. We Rochesterians have a piece by Hassam at the Memorial Art Gallery, but it’s a large, wide, mural-size, classically-flavored landscape without a great deal of appeal.

Personally, we blame the facile Hassam as much as anyone for the quickly painted, low-quality, “impressionistic” paintings you see at “starving artist” markets. He made it look as if there was nothing to it — and sometimes there wasn’t much. But the best of his material has a lot of charm.

2. Theodore Robinson. Hassam may have the cringe-making nickname “the American Monet”, but Theodore Robinson robinson-low-tide-riversider-yacht-club-met-1894actually painted with Monet in Giverny, France. This pleasing New England scene, painted in 1894 and entitled Low Tide, was just acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Emsworth noted several Robinson pictures in the collection of the Terra Museum in this post last summer.

tarbell-mother-and-child-in-a-boat-mfa3. Edmund C. Tarbell. Don’t tell us that the best of Tarbell’s paintings don’t afford as much pleasure as a fine Monet or Degas. His dazzling Mother and Child in a Boat makes our point. We think it’s the best of the American impressionist paintings at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the city where Tarbell lived and worked.

metcalf-icebound-chicago-19094. Willard Metcalf. We have so gotten to enjoy the landscapes of Willard Metcalf that we had difficulty choosing a representative picture. One of the superb winter snow pictures that made his reputation? Or one of his colorful autumn pictures, like The Golden Carnival at Rochester’s Memorial Art Gallery? This 1909 picture, Icebound, belongs to the Art Institute of Chicago.

5. Daniel Garber. As we noted in an earlier post about our visit to the Michener Art Museum (in southeastern Pennsylvania), which has several superb Garbers, garber-tohickon-smithsonian-am-art-mus1his paintings tend to have a magical, mystical quality about them.

But there is nothing at all cartoonish about Garber’s paintings, though some of them remind us vaguely of the cinematography in Sleeping Beauty. This large, marvelous landscape, entitled Tohickon, belongs to the Smithsonian Museum of American Art in Washington, D.C., which has just recently (as of fall 2009) put it on display in the Grand Salon of the Renwick Gallery.

6. Philip Leslie Hale. If this was the only painting he’d done, we’d still include the Boston impressionist Philip Leslie Hale hale-crimson-rambler-phila-acad-fine-artson our list. We nominate The Crimson Rambler, a 1908 painting that is in Philadelphia at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, as one of the very finest of all American impressionist paintings. This image doesn’t do it justice.

Bits of trivia: Philip Leslie Hale was the son of the noted preacher Edward Everett Hale. And his wife Lilian Westcott Hale was also a well-known painter; we saw a couple of of her paintings at a traveling exhibition here in Rochester last spring. Her picture Home Lessons was noted in this Emsworth post..

7. William Glackens. The great American collector Albert Barnes, who amassed the finest collection of Renoirs and Cezannes in the world, glackens-bathing-at-bellport-1912-brooklyn-museumunfortunately didn’t think much of his own country’s artists. His friend William Glackens was practically the only American impressionist Barnes cared for, and if you make your way out to the ritzy Philadelphia suburb of Merion, Pennsylvania to visit the Barnes Foundation, you’ll find Glackens sharing the walls with Renoir, Seurat, and Picasso. (The Barnes has a couple of paintings by the American impressionist Ernest Lawson as well.)

The Renoir-like painting shown above, Bathing at Bellport, is at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Clearly Glackens studied Renoir closely. No doubt that’s one of the reasons Barnes thought so well of Glackens; Barnes thought every aspiring artist should study Renoir. I enjoyed this blogger’s excellent illustrated note on Glackens’s paintings of Washington Square, in Manhattan.

lawson-spring-tapestry-new-britain-19308. Ernest Lawson. Like Vincent van Gogh, Lawson slathered paint onto his canvases pretty freely, and to marvelous effect. We’ve noticed that a lot of his paintings show a broad landscape through a screen of trees in the foreground, like this painting, Spring Tapestry, which is in Connecticut at the New Britain Museum of American Art.

cooper-main-street-bridge-rochester9. Colin Campbell Cooper. Cooper’s best-known pictures are urban landscapes set in Philly or New York City.  In the 1920s he moved to California and painted there.  But the finest Cooper we’ve ever seen, Main Street Bridge, Rochester, is right here in Rochester. We walk across the Genesee River all the time over this very bridge.

Cooper’s picture was painted in 1908. Till the 1960s, there were still buildings right on the bridge itself, on both sides. There aren’t any buildings on the bridge now; you can see the river as you drive or walk across. This is our favorite impressionist painting at Rochester’s Memorial Art Gallery.

10. Frederick Carl Frieseke.. Frieseke’s adventures in color took him as far past frieseke-the-bird-cage-new-britain-1910other American impressionists like Edmund Tarbell and Willard Metcalf as French post-impressionist Pierre Bonnard’s wildly successful experiments (we love Bonnard) took him past Monet and Sisley. This picture, The Bird Cage, can be seen at the New Britain Museum of American Art; the gift shop there will sell you a refrigerator magnet with the image.

redfield-the-brook-at-carversville-1923-smithsonian-am-art

The Pennsylvanian Edward R. Redfield's "The Brook at Carversville," at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art

We had trouble limiting our list to ten painters; it was hard to leave off Edward W. Redfield, one of our very favorites (see this post), from the list. (Mary Cassatt worked in Europe for virtually her entire career, so we omitted her.) A longer list of famous American impressionists would include Cecilia Beaux, William Merritt Chase, John Twachtman, J. Alden Weir, Guy Wiggins, Elmer Schofield, Lilian Westcott Hale, Frank Weston Benson, Robert Reid, and Dennis Miller Bunker.

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16 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Thank you for introducing me to these painters. I have enjoyed the selection that you have chosen.

  2. There is something wonderful to see someone else who enjoys impressionism and values great art…

  3. Thanks — nice to hear from you! Still hoping to get down to your studio — maybe later this summer.

  4. Once again, I greatly enjoyed your current Collection/Selections of “American Impressionists!” Thankyou! Also appreciate your keeping me on your Email list of subscribers. Best regards to You and Your Wife :) Jan David Legere

  5. Absolutely Stunning! ~
    Claude Monet is smiling, i’m positive….

  6. I classify her with the French impressionists, because France is where she painted.

  7. What! No Mary Cassatt?

  8. Thank you! I will surely check out his work.

  9. Our family have been collectors of Spike Ress for many years and have a couple of dozen of both his Watercolors and Oils.
    No other artist we have found who so accurately captures the redrock colors of our Southwestern landscape.
    I strongly suggest your reviewing his work and consider including him in this illustrious company of fine Impressionist painters.

  10. I would like to strongly suggest that you add / include renowned American impressionist painter Albert Henry Krehbiel (1873-1945) — (http://www.bing.com/search?q=Albert+Henry+Krehbiel&FORM=MSNH11&qs=n ) to your listing of “The best American Impressionist painters”.

    Thank you very much for your kind consideration and all the best.

    Don Ryan

  11. ATT: EMSWORTH: Whenever you have occasion to be in the Jamestown Area, Your visit to my work studio would be most welcome, indeed ! More so, it would be my pleasure to meet with and learn more about Emsworth. I’ve been reading throughout your “WordPress” with great interest and wonderment… wondering how one man and wife could find the time to delve so deeply into the world of Fine Arts and Literature… sharing all your knowledge and travels so freely with others. Regarding Exhibits: A few local shows over the years. If I were to boast… it would be the time in the late 1970′s that I was accepted (juried show) into the Annual Maine Artists’ Water Color Show at the Farnsworth Museum, in Rockland… I was an “unknown” and amazed to find my submission hanging there among Maine’s more known and accomplished Watercolorists of that time :) Perhaps of more interest to you, the subject was the going Saddlebreds at the Syracuse State Fair Grounds where I used to show horses and where I netted a few commissions from some equestrian watercolors I took along to display. Presently working on oils and watercolors of life in Western NY and Western PA with intentions of having new works worthy of showing by the time the “Summer People” come back.
    Best regards, JDL

  12. Mr. Legere:
    I looked at your website and find your work very appealing. The wife and I have a modest collection of pieces, mostly watercolors, from artists in western New York. This summer we should be in the Jamestown area a time or two — I’d like to stop by and visit your studio. Do you ever exhibit at the Clothesline Arts Festival here in Rochester at the MAG at the beginning of September?
    Emsworth

  13. Att: Emsworth: If your question posted above, “And where do you hail from?” was directed to me… I’m a native Mainer now living in Western New York State. Have been painting off and on all my life, (visit my website) without even coming close to the caliber of the Works you have selected.
    Contrary to “Suck Anonymous’” comment, the selections you have chosen to display are inspirational to all who appreciate the Works of Our American Impressionist Painters. By the way, my younger Brother, Jon S. Legere (1944-1996 ) is a listed American Painter.

  14. The pleasure is mine! And where do you hail from?

  15. Just enjoyed your selection of American “impressionist” Painters of which we have many over here who are known and many more who are unknown. Thanks for giving recognition to these ten whom you have personally selected and enjoy. Thanks for allowing others to enjoy them with you. JDL

  16. beautiful


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