Renoir to Remington: Impressionism to the American West

September 21, 2014 through February 1, 2015



 

Selected object label text from the exhibition

 

Ernest Lawson (American born in Canada 1873-1939)
Genesis, 1919-20
Oil on canvas
Tacoma Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. L. T. Murray Sr., 1981.12
 
Within this last section of the exhibition Ernest Lawson's Genesis is the only picture that does not represent a Southwestern scene. An early twentieth-century New York Impressionist and member of the independent group the Eight that formed in 1907, Lawson generally painted the semi-industrial landscape of Manhattan and the lower Hudson River. In the current canvas, however, the artist created an ideal image of nature with no signs of human presence. His symbolic title, Genesis, possesses analogies with the allegorical name given to Fremont Ellis's large panorama nearby, Valley of the Gods.
 
 
Everett Shinn (American 1876-1953)
Ballet in the Park, c. 1917
Oil on canvas
Tacoma Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Corydon Wagner Sr., 1978.1
 
Like William Glackens, whose Natalie in a Blue Skir appears elsewhere in the exhibition, Shinn was a member of the New York group the Eight, known for their darkly lit urban realist scenes. In the early years of the twentieth century, however, both men became interested by Impressionism -- Glackens by Renoir's color and Shinn by Degas's entertainment themes.
Shinn's mentor Degas would likely have admired Ballet in the Park. The use of a thin vertical format enhances the decorative quality of the picture, which incorporates the shadowed audience of elegantly dressed spectators into the overall scene of spectacle. Shinn creates a masterful play between artifice and nature: in the splash of stage lighting versus soft glow of moonlight, and in the stage set versus park surroundings. Without knowing the title, we might initially imagine the trees that gracefully arc above the stage set as being part of a painted backdrop.


Elmer L. Boone (American 1883-1952)
Shepherd , c. 1940s
Oil on masonite
El Paso Museum of Art, Robert U. and Mabel O. Lipscomb Foundation Endowment Purchase, 2009.14
 
Early El Paso artist Elmer L. Boone was born in Joplin, Missouri, and moved West in 1927 for health reasons. Shepherd expresses his devotion to the Southwestern landscape through its contrasts of glowing pastel hues of yellow and orange in the sunset and violet and blue in the mountains. The humble rural subject and mood of the work look back to the art of the pre-Impressionist painters of the Barbizon school (named after the village of Barbizon where they often worked). Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the picture, though, is its series of visible parallel stokes on the shepherd and sheep, which together create a weave describing the forms. Close study reveals that many of these adjacent strokes are blue, pink, or another color, suggesting the artist's interest in creating optical color mixing.

 
Fremont F. Ellis (American 1897-1985)
Pecos Spillway, date unknown
Oil on canvas
El Paso Museum of Art, Gift of the El Paso Electric Company, 1997.11.2
 
Fremont Ellis, known as the "Impressionist" within the Santa Fe artists' society Los Cinco Pintores (established 1921), remains the most celebrated member of that modernist group. He also provides a bridge to El Paso; he briefly owned an optometry shop in El Paso before devoting himself to painting, and represented El Paso scenes such as the dramatic El Paso Smelter at Night, which is also on display.
Ellis's five paintings in the exhibition reveal an artist who was more versatile than is commonly described. Among these works his most purely Impressionist is the small Pecos Spillway, whose allover energy of juxtaposed pastel tones and rapid dabs and strokes suggests a work executed on the spot, not to mention the artist's joy at being there to record the scene.
 
 
Julian Onderdonk (American 1882-1922)
Bluffs on the Guadalupe River, Seventeen Miles above Kerrville, Texas, 1921
Oil on board
El Paso Museum of Art, Purchase with funds provided by the estate of Charles H. Leavell, 2001.22
 
Born in San Antonio, Julian Onderdonk graduated from West Texas Military Academy in 1900. At age nineteen he left for New York to study under William Merritt Chase, the first major American painter to produce Impressionist works in the United States. Onderdonk returned to San Antonio in 1909, becoming famous for his bluebonnet landscapes and lauded as "the father of Texas painting."
Bluffs on the Guadalupe River, Seventeen Miles above Kerrville, Texas uses the Impressionist style to express a romantic vision of isolated nature. The painting's descriptive title specifying the geographical positioning highlights the artist's naturalistic intentions. Despite the work's small size and high horizon line, the warmth and lightness of its distant sun-washed riverscape open up the composition at upper right to suggest wide open space and atmosphere. Certainly the inherent grandeur of Onderdonk's picture would translate well into a painting five times its size.
 
 
 
Frederic Remington (American 1861-1909)
The Mystery (A Sign of Friendship), 1909
Oil on canvas-
El Paso Museum of Art, Gift of the El Paso Art Museum Association Members' Guild, 1969.28.1
 
Frederic Remington's realistic and dramatic depictions of the Wild West codified the archetypal Western imagery that was later immortalized by Hollywood. Completed in 1909 the year of his early death, The Mystery (alternately titled A Sign of Friendship or The Sun Worshippers) represents the painter's late style, which has sometimes been termed "impressionistic realism." After 1900 Remington began progressively to loosen his illustrative style under the influence of Monet and American Impressionists he knew personally such as Childe Hassam. In The Mystery, the foreground pair of horses and riders are covered with evident flecks of pigment, and the grass below them is rendered with a beautifully abstract weave of diagonal strokes in various pastel tones. The shift toward Impressionism evident in such a work can only leave us to wonder what might have been Remington's subsequent development if he had not died prematurely from complications following an emergency appendectomy.

 
Joseph Henry Sharp (American1859-1953)
Taos Indian Girl , c. 1915
Oil on canvas
El Paso Museum of Art, Gift of Woodruff Lochausen, 1974.67.1
 
Taos Indian Girl creates a lovely pairing with the work next to it. These pictures by Sharp entered the El Paso Museum of Art about five years apart. Taos Indian Girls tands closer to Impressionism in its light and color effects and its juxtaposition of broad dabs, splotches, and strokes of pigment. Elk Foot and Bawling Deer exhibits a thinner, more subtle handling. In this pair, the painter effectively describes on the one hand the ethereal dazzle of strong sunlight on foliage and its ambient reflection into the shade of a threshold, and on the other hand the special atmosphere, ruddy glow, and flickering shadows of an evening fire. Considering Taos Indian Girl closely, we could say that Sharp's masterful loose handling, liquid modeling, and tonal range not only describe the play of sunlight but also evoke the sweltering heat of day versus the comparative relief found within the doorway.


William Robinson Leigh (American 1866-1955)
Zuni Pottery Maker, 1907
Oil on canvas
Collection of Jack and Carroll Maxon, El Paso
 
Born in West Virginia, Leigh decided to pursue art early on and at the age of fourteen entered the Maryland Institute of Art in Baltimore, where he studied three years. Following this he trained at Munich's Royal Academy for twelve years, before returning to the United States to begin a successful career in New York as an illustrator. Eventually Leigh became eager to broaden his horizons, and the opportunity came in 1906 when the Santa Fe Railroad offered him passage through New Mexico and Arizona in exchange for a painting of the Grand Canyon. Henceforth the artist would regularly return West, and is best known today for his Western scenes. Zuni Pottery Maker is an illustrative example of Leigh's typical practice of joining his thorough academic training with a lightened palette appropriate to his Southwestern scenes, which helped earn him the nickname "The Sagebrush Rembrandt."
 
 
Joseph Henry Sharp (American 1859-1953)
Elk Foot (Jerry), Taos, date unknown
Oil on canvas
Collection of Jack and Carroll Maxon, El Paso
 
Sharp was the oldest member of the Taos Society of Artists formed in 1915. The present painting represents a favorite model of both Sharp and his associate Eanger Irving Couse: Elk Foot or Túmenah, whose Anglicized name was Jerry Mirabal. Sharp's largest work in the exhibition, Elk Foot (Jerry), Taos exemplifies the Taos Society's frequent melding of finished technique with vivid coloration. Sharp displays his technical skill in the attentive description of the body's musculature and anatomy, but he utilizes warm colors throughout the composition to describe the pale walls, vivid hues of costume, and brown skin of the model's body and glowing red complexion of his face. Another notable aspect is the combination of academic finish with a natural native pose that differs from the formal postures of official academic portraits. Interestingly, this feature adds a degree of intimacy without sacrificing seriousness: viewing his subject at eye level and from the side, the artist highlights the silhouette of Elk Foot's healthy form, aquiline nose, and noble profile.


Duane Bryers (American 1911-2012)
Music by an Evening Campfire, date unknow
Oil on canvas
J P Morgan Chase Bank Collection, El Paso
 
Along with the living artist Howard Terpning, whose large painting Preparing for the Sun Dance is displayed nearby, Duane Bryers was a member of the Tucson 7, a Southwest artists' society that began in the 1970s and whose name Bryers coined in the '90s. Similar to the earlier groups the Taos Society of Artists and Santa Fe's Los Cinco Pintores, the Tucson 7 did not join together to promote a single style. Their loose association was founded chiefly upon friendship and their common love for representing Southwestern themes.
Bryers's picture features a general contrast between the golden light spread by the fire and the cobalt blue backdrop of the sky. His technique is both painterly and illustrational, and contrasts with the noticeably more finished figural style of his colleague Terpning in Preparing for the Sun Dance.
 
 
Fremont F. Ellis (American 1897-1985)
Yuccas, 1917
Oil on canvas
El Paso Museum of Art, Gift of Hallett M. Luscombe, George H. Mengel, and Sherod L. Mengel Jr., 1991.8.1
 
Ellis's 1917 Yuccas moves from his usual Impressionist approach toward the Neo-Impressionist style that evolved out of Impressionism back in France of the 1880s. Representing the singular beauty of a hot and barren desert landscape, the picture features simplified pearly planes of sand, mountains, and sky, across which run a Neo-Impressionist mosaic of evanescent rectangular color strokes. In its delicacy, simplicity, and systematization, Ellis's composition rivals the work of Neo-Impressionist master Seurat, with the difference being that here in this desert view the straight and curving silhouettes of isolated yuccas take the place of the masts and riggings seen in Seurat's celebrated coastal scenes. Ellis also utilizes noticeably larger strokes in distinction to the French painter's points of pigment.
 

William Robinson Leigh (American 1866-1955)
San Francisco Peaks, Arizona, c. 1910-15
Oil on canvas
Collection of Jack and Carroll Maxon, El Paso
 
William Robinson Leigh trained for twelve years at Munich's Royal Academy before establishing a successful career in illustration in New York. After an initial visit to the Southwest in 1906 he regularly returned to the region, which became a principal subject of his painting. Leigh is known for melding the finished academic technique he learned in Europe with a light palette akin to that of Impressionism. San Francisco Peaks, Arizona, however, demonstrates that Leigh sometimes adopted Impressionist brushwork in addition to Impressionist colors. His shimmering, pastel-hued landscape forsakes detail for a uniform incrustation of small strokes across much of the surface. The result is a decorative and dissolving effect whose closest equivalent in art is the Haystacks series that Claude Monet began to paint in 1890.
 

Frederic Remington (American1861-1909)
The Mountain Man, 1903
Bronze
Collection of Jack and Carroll Maxon, El Paso
 
The Mountain Man was one of Remington's most daring and critically acclaimed sculptures, a medium he began to study independently in 1895. Representing the dramatic descent of a French-Canadian trapper and his horse down an almost vertical slope, The Mountain Man is an excellent demonstration of art historian Michael Shapiro's description of Remington as "the American sculptor most concerned with depicting the action and spirit of headlong forward motion, whose mysteries the camera's eye had first revealed in the 1870s." Further highlighting Remington's naturalist intentions, research has revealed a likely source for his composition: the photograph of a European military officer and his mount descending a very steep slope, which the artist kept in one of his photograph albums.

 
Porfirio Salinas (American 1910-1973)
Bluebonnets, date unknown
Oil on canvas
Collection of Michael and Carol Bernstein, El Paso
 
Celebrated for his depictions of the Texas Hill Country during springtime, Porfirio Salinas was one of the first Mexican-American artists to gain national recognition. Born in 1910 in Bastrop, Texas, he moved with his family to San Antonio as a child. At the age of fifteen he went to work with noted Texas artist Robert William Wood. Notably, Wood helped shape Salinas's specialty in bluebonnet painting: since Wood disliked painting the flowers, he paid Salinas to add them to his own landscapes. Salinas forged a successful career, and in the 1960s his status rose when President Lyndon B. Johnson endorsed him as his favorite painter.
With its rolling field punctuated by splotches of flowers, Bluebonnets might recall Monet's early Impressionist painting Poppy Field, with the difference being that the French artist included four promenading figures and a house in the background, while Salinas gives center stage to uninhabited nature.


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