James Lucas - March 2023

American Impressionists

The Red Bridge, Julian Alden Weir

The Red Bridge, Julian Alden Weir

From the middle of the nineteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth century, American Impressionism was a style of painting that was related to European Impressionism and was practiced by American artists in the United States. The style is characterized by loose brushwork and vivid colors, with a wide range of subject matters but focusing on landscapes and upper-class domestic life. 
The United States initially opposed impressionism. Americans were drawn to the landscape paintings at the first exhibition in 1886, but they were offended by the realist figures and nudity in other paintings. Because Impressionism was created as a radical rejection of tradition at the Academy and American artists hoped to gain acceptance through their traditional academy studies, American artists were hesitant to adopt the style while studying in France. American patrons began to accept the abstract Impressionist styles over time, particularly as American artists like Mary Cassatt began to adopt the French Impressionist styles.

Impressionism - An Emerging Style

Impressionism emerged as an artistic style in France in the 1860s. Major exhibitions of French impressionist works in Boston and New York in the 1880s introduced the style to the American public. The first exhibit took place in 1886 in New York and was presented by the American Art Association and organized by Paul Durand-Ruel . Some of the first American artists to paint in an impressionistic mode, such as Theodore Robinson and Mary Cassatt, did so in the late 1880s after visiting France and meeting with artists such as Claude Monet. Others, such as Childe Hassam, took notice of the increasing numbers of French impressionist works at American exhibitions. Impressionism was initially unpopular in the United States. At the first exhibit in 1886, Americans were attracted to the landscape paintings but were offended by the realist figures and nudity depicted in other paintings. American artists were hesitant to adopt the style of Impressionism while studying in France as it was created as a radical rejection of tradition at the Academy and American artists hoped to gain acceptance through their traditional academy studies. Overtime, American patrons began to accept the abstract forms of Impressionism, especially as American artists, such as Mary Cassatt, began to adopt the styles of French Impressionism.[

The Characteristics of American Impressionism

Unlike early Renaissance painters, American Impressionists leaned toward asymmetrical composition, trimmed figures, and plunging perspectives in their works to make a more "impressionist" variant of the subject. In addition, American impressionists practiced "impasto," a style of painting characterized by thick raised strokes, broken brushstrokes, and used pure color straight from the tubes to make their works more vibrant. The European impressionists were known for their serene landscapes and depictions of the lower and middle classes. Like their European counterparts, the American impressionists painted landscapes, but in contrast to the rise of industrialization, American impressionists also depicted quiet domestic scenes.

Yoho Falls, John Singer Sargent

Yoho Falls, John Singer Sargent

American Art Colonies

From the 1890s through the 1910s, American impressionism flourished in art colonies—loosely affiliated groups of artists who lived and worked together and shared a common aesthetic vision. Art colonies tended to form in small towns that provided affordable living, abundant scenery for painting, and relatively easy access to large cities where artists could sell their work. Some of the most important American impressionist artists gathered at Cos Cob and Old Lyme, Connecticut, both on Long Island Sound; New Hope, Pennsylvania, on the Delaware River; and Brown County, Indiana. American impressionist artists also thrived in California at Carmel and Laguna Beach; in New York on eastern Long Island at Shinnecock, largely due to the influence of William Merritt Chase; and in Boston where Edmund Charles Tarbell and Frank Weston Benson became important practitioners of the impressionist style.

Winter Harmony, John Henry Twachtman

Winter Harmony, John Henry Twachtman

American Impressionism - The Decline

Some American art colonies remained vibrant centers of impressionist art into the 1920s. But with the advent of the Aschan School in 1910, the tides of the American art world started change. Impressionism in America further lost its cutting-edge status in 1913 when a historic exhibition of modern art took place at the 69th Regiment Armory building in New York City. The “Armory Show”, as it came to be called, heralded a new painting style regarded as more in touch with the increasingly fast-paced and chaotic world, especially with the outbreak of World War I, The Great Depression and World War II.

List of American Impressionist Painters

Mary Cassatt 1844–1926
J. Alden Weir1852-1919Ten American Painters
Edmund C. Tarbell1862-1938Ten American Painters
The Guild of Boston Artists
Frank Weston Benson1862-1951Ten American Painters 
The Guild of Boston Artists
John Henry Twachtman1853-1902Cos Cob
Ten American Painters
John Leslie Breck1860-1899
Joseph Rodefer DeCamp1858-1923Ten American Painters
Julian Alden Weir1852-1919Cos Cob
Ten American Painters
Paul Cornoyer1864-1923
Robert Reid1862-1929Ten American Painters
Theodore Earl Butler1861-1936
Theodore Robinson1852-1896Cos Cob
Thomas P. Barnett1870-1929
Thomas Wilmer Dewing1851-1938Cornish Art Colony
Ten American Painters
Willard Metcalf1858-1925Cornish Art Colony
Ten American Painters
John Singer Sargent1856-1925
William Merritt Chase1849-1916Ten American Painters
Frederick Childe Hassam1859-1935Old Lyme
Ten American Painters
Reynolds Beal1866-1951
Matilda Browne1869-1947Old Lyme
Alson S. Clark1876-1949

Cos Cob Art Colony

The Cos Cob art colony was a group of artists, many of them American Impressionists, who gathered during the summer months in and around Cos Cob, a section of Greenwich, Connecticut, from about 1890 to about 1920. In a joking reference to their predilection for painting views of the vernacular architecture, group member Childe Hassam nicknamed the art colony "the Cos Cob Clapboard School of Art."
Artists had been coming to Greenwich to paint since the 1870s, but the art colony began to form when John Henry Twachtman settled in Greenwich in 1889. The town was only a short train ride from New York City, yet retained a rural character that appealed to artists. Many of Twachtman's friends came to visit him at his home; among them were Hassam, J. Alden Weir, Theodore Robinson, Henry Fitch Taylor, and Robert Reid. For longer stays, they boarded at the Holley House (now known as the Bush-Holley House), a rambling old saltbox overlooking Cos Cob's small harbor. 
During the winter, Twachtman and Weir taught at the Art Students League of New York. Probably beginning in 1890, Twachtman established summer art classes in Cos Cob; Weir taught with him in 1892 and 1893. Many of the summer students were enrolled at the Art Students League. Among the artists who first visited Cos Cob as summer students were Elmer Livingston MacRae, Ernest Lawson, Allen Tucker, Charles Ebert, Mary Roberts Ebert, Alice Judson, and Genjiro Yeto. Other artists associated with the Cos Cob art colony include Leonard Ochtman, Mina Fonda Ochtman, Dorothy Ochtman, Edward Clark Potter, Emil Carlsen, George Wharton Edwards, and Kerr Eby. The art colony also included many writers and editors, including Lincoln Steffens and Willa Cather. Members of the Cos Cob art colony were deeply involved in organizing the Armory Show, the exhibition that in 1913 introduced modernist European art to a vast American audience. The art colony formed its own hometown organization in 1911. The Greenwich Society of Artists (now the Greenwich Art Society) held its first exhibition in 1912 at the Bruce Museum, which opened to the public for the first time on that occasion.

Niagara Falls, John Henry Twachtman

Niagara Falls, John Henry Twachtman

Washington Arch, Spring, Frederick Childe Hassam

Washington Arch, Spring, Frederick Childe Hassam

Cornish Art Colony

The Cornish Art Colony (or Cornish Artists’ Colony, or Cornish Colony) was a popular art colony centered in Cornish, New Hampshire from about 1895 through the years of World War I. Attracted by the natural beauty of the area, about 100 artists, sculptors, writers, designers, and politicians lived there either full-time or during the summer months. With views across the Connecticut River Valley to Mount Ascutney in Vermont, the bucolic scenery was considered to resemble that of an Italian landscape. The central figure of the Cornish Colony was Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Beginning around 1885, Augustus attracted a summer colony of artists that grew into a single extended social network. Some were related, some were friends, some were promising students from the Art Students League of New York that Saint-Gaudens had co-founded, and some were Saint-Gaudens' assistants who developed significant careers of their own. After his death in 1907 it slowly dissipated. His house and gardens are now preserved as Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site. Though the colony's name referred to its social center in the village of Cornish, geographically it was spread out over the villages of Windsor, Vermont and Plainfield, New Hampshire as well. Windsor was the mailing address for the entire area and the arrival point of most of the colonists, who usually came from New York City by train.

Old Lyme Art Colony

The Old Lyme art colony of Old Lyme, Connecticut was established in 1899 by American painter Henry Ward Ranger, and was in its time the most famous art colony in the United States, and the first to adopt Impressionism.
Ranger began his American equivalent to the French Barbizon school, a similar seasonal retreat from less bucolic communities, in the modest boarding house of Florence Griswold, bringing fellow artists Lewis Cohen, Henry Rankin Poore, Louis Paul Dessar, and William Henry Howe in 1900. The group came to be dominated, socially and artistically, by Childe Hassam after his appearance in 1903. The colony was important to the development of American Impressionism. Perhaps 200 painters passed through the colony during its height in the next 30 years. Many significant American Impressionist paintings of the era depict buildings in and around Old Lyme, notably the Old Lyme Congregational Church, painted by Hassam and others. The 1906 painting May Night by Willard Metcalf shows the boardinghouse by night, with a figure said to be Griswold herself. This was the first contemporary painting purchased by the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Old Lyme remains a thriving art community. The Griswold House has been transformed into an art museum, the Florence Griswold Museum, affectionately called "Flo Gris", by local residents. The museum holds artists' work along with personal possessions of the artists who frequented there.

Ten American Painters

The Ten American Painters (also known as The Ten) was an artists' group formed in 1898 to exhibit their work as a unified group. John Henry Twachtman, J. Alden Weir, and Childe Hassam were the driving forces behind the organization. Dissatisfied with the conservatism of the American art establishment, the three artists recruited seven others from Boston, New York City, and elsewhere on the East Coast, with the intention of creating an exhibition society that valued their view of originality, imagination, and exhibition quality. The Ten achieved popular and critical success, and lasted two decades before dissolving. 
In America, popular painting styles usually originated on the east coast in cities like New York and Boston. The Ten continued a tradition of artists forming new groups in reaction to a lack of support from existing artists' groups. Thus, the National Academy of Design (founded in 1825 by students dissatisfied by the conservatism of the older American Academy of the Fine Arts) eventually became too conservative to suit the artists who in 1877 initiated the Society of American Artists so they could meet and exhibit their work as a collective. The Ten American Painters was born from this group in 1898, when Twachtman, Weir, and Hassam found the Society hostile to the Impressionist style they had adopted. Leaving the group was considered a bold move by the general public, but the Society of American Artists felt that it was easier to let the members that were leaving go than appease them.

Other Articles on Impressionism

The impressionists

The Impressionists

Mary Cassatt Paintings

Mary Cassatt - Artist Profile