American Impressionism: John Henry Twachtman

11 Jan

John Henry Twachtman, Gray Day (1882)

Note: click on any image to enlarge

Over the past several months I’ve devoted a lot of blog space to the work of the Ashcan School — which I love.  Now I want to devote some attention to American Impressionism — which I also love.  In fact my own stuff is probably more aligned with American Impressionism, so I ought to show some respect!  So this post is devoted to John Henry Twachtman — a founding member of “The Ten” and one of the first and greatest of the American Impressionists.

John Henry Twachtman (1900)

From the late 19th Century into the first couple of decades of the 20th Century, American Impressionism dominated the American art scene.  American Impressionists were scattered in art colonies around the United States and Canada, with notable colonies in Cos Cob and Old Lyme, Connecticut; New Hope, Pennsylvania; and Brown County, Indiana.  On the west coast Impressionist art colonies flourished in Carmel and Laguna Beach, California.  Shinnecock, Long Island and Boston and Gloucester, Massachusetts were also notable Impressionist outposts.  In Canada there was “The Seven” and Tom Thomson.

Above: The Ten American Painters (1908), eight years after Twachtman’s death in 1902 — Seated, left to right:  Edward Simmons, Willard Metcalf, Childe Hassam, J. Alden Weir, Robert Reid.  Standing, left to right:  William Merritt Chase (who replaced Twachtman), Frank W. Benson, Edmund C. Tarbell, Thomas Wilmer Dewing, Joseph R. De Camp.

Probably the single most notable group of American Impressionist painters was the group of “Ten American Painters,” sometimes called simply “The Ten.”  The Ten resigned from the Society of American Artists in late 1897 to protest the commercialism of the group’s exhibitions.  The “original” Ten were: Childe Hassam, J. Alden Weir, John Henry Twachtman, Robert Reid, Willard Metcalf, Frank W. Benson, Edmund C. Tarbell, Wilmer Dewing, Joseph R. De Camp and Edward Simmons.  All of The Ten were active in New York City or Boston.

John Henry Twachtman, Cos Cob (c. 1890 – 99)

John Henry Twachtman, Waterfall, Blue Brook (c. 1895 – 1900)

Twachtman, an original member of The Ten, studied art in Europe along with his friend William Merritt Chase.  In 1886 he returned to America and settled near Cos Cob, Connecticut, eventually buying a farm in Greenwich.  He frequently painted and exhibited with his friend J. Alden Weir.  In 1893 Twachtman received a silver medal in painting at the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago and, that same year, exhibited his work with Claude Monet at a New York gallery.

John Henry Twachtman, Connecticut Landscape (c. 1889 – 91)

John Henry Twachtman, Yellowstone in Winter (1895)

John Henry Twachtman, Gloucester Harbor (c. 1900)

In Connecticut, Twachtman developed a highly personal Impressionist technique.  Fellow Impressionist Childe Hassam was impressed with the delicate power of Twachtman’s style.  Near the end of his life life Twachtman visited Gloucester, Massachusetts (an Impressionist art colony in the late 19th Century and Willard Metcalf’s backyard) and produced a number of more modern works.

John Twachtman, Winter Harmony (c. 1890 – 1900)

John Henry Twachtman, End of the Pier, New York Harbor (1879)

Sadly, in 1902 Twachtman died suddenly of a brain aneurysm, at age 49, in Gloucester.  One can only wonder what he might’ve produced had he lived another twenty years!  I love the delicacy and moodiness of Twachtman’s work.  His range is just amazing, and he avoids the common Impressionist “high chroma color” temptation.

For example, Twachtman’s delicate Winter Harmony and his bold End of the Pier, New York Harbor (above) are each sublime — yet neither rests on the sort of bright, manufactured colors normally associated with Impressionism.  One is reminded more of Constable or Corot. With their beautiful restraint, Twachtman’s Gloucester paintings have an Alfred Sisley or Camille Pissarro vibe, and his Wild Cherry Tree has a feel similar to Tom Thomson’s Jack Pine.

John Henry Twachtman, Fish Sheds, Gloucester, Massachusetts (c. 1900 – 02)

John Henry Twachtman, Fish Sheds and Schooner, Gloucester (1898)

John Henry Twachtman, Wild Cherry Tree (1901)

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