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.
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).
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 actually 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.
3. 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.
4. 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, his 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 on 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, unfortunately 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.
8. 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.
9. 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 other 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.
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.