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John Twachtman, An American Impressionist

 

A major retrospective of paintings by one of the most significant American Impressionists, John Henry Twachtman (1853-1902), is on exhibit at the Cincinnati Art Museum through September 5, 1999 in "John Twachtman, An American Impressionist." The exhibition, the first of its kind in over 30 years, will feature more than 50 paintings and pastels detailing the Cincinnati artist's career.

Born in 1853 in Cincinnati to German immigrant parents, John Henry Twachtman received early artistic training in his hometown. In 1875,Frank Duveneck , a friend and teacher, invited the young artist to accompany him to Munich. Twachtman readily adopted the characteristic dark palette, and rapid, open brushwork of Munich colleagues. After refining his painting skills on a trip to Venice in 1877, he returned to the United States and developed a forceful, realist manner, capturing the energy of city life in New York and Cincinnati.

Twachtman departed for Paris in 1883 with his wife and son to study with the popular teachers associated with the Académie Julian. Twachtman continued to improve his drawing skills, and the works from this period reflect an increasing interest in composition.

The salon-size landscape painting Arques-la-Bataille (Metropolitan Museum of Art) represents the pinnacle of Twachtman's French period. Its stark composition and tonal palette reveal the influence of James McNeill Whistler as well as the flattened spaces and decorative patterns of Japanese art.

As seen in Along the River, Winter (High Museum of Art), Twachtman was especially fond of winter landscapes. He explained to a fellow artist, "We must have snow and lots of it. Never is nature more lovely than when it is snowing. Everything is so quiet and the whole earth seems wrapped in a mantle, all nature is hushed to silence."

In the late 1880s, Twachtman moved his family to Greenwich, Connecticut. Family life at his 17-acre estate in Greenwich provided the leading subject matter for his art through the next decade. He returned to specific sites on the property and painted them repeatedly during different weather conditions and changing seasons, seeking to convey his personal response to the sensuous aspects of nature.

By the mid-1890s, Twachtman's career became fully identified with the Impressionist movement, and American critics often compared him to Monet. Twachtman's brushwork, however, usually differed from the broken strokes of other American Impressionists. He varied his paint application from rich, tactile strokes to dry, chalky surfaces. His palette brightened during the 1890s when he often depicted close-up views of flowers, corners of the garden, and other favorite spots on the farm, as in The White Bridge (Minneapolis Institute of Art) and Waterfall, Blue Brook (Cincinnati Art Museum).

In 1897, Twachtman became a founding member of "The Ten American Painters" (or "The Ten"), a group of artists who seceded from the Society of American Artists and exhibited together for the next 20 years. Of "The Ten," J. Alden Weir, Childe Hassam, Willard Metcalf and Twachtman were united by their rejection of descriptive art in favor of more subjective, innovative interpretation of nature. Twachtman created some of his most bold and experimental works for inclusion in this group's landmark exhibitions.

By the turn of the century, Twachtman began to spend his summers in the artist colony of Gloucester, Massachusetts. A boldness and spontaneity is evident in his late Gloucester subjects, which are among the strongest and most aggressive works of his career. In these paintings he returned to the broadly brushed style of his Munich period and reintroduced black into his palette to capture the grittier images of life in Gloucester's commercial fishing docks. As in Wild Cherry Tree (Albright-Knox Art Gallery) or Harbor View Hotel (Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art) his use of daring compositions with simplified, geometric abstractions suggests his innate understanding of 20th-century modernism.

Upon Twachtman's death in 1902, his colleague Thomas W. Dewing recognized the artist's avant-garde spirit by describing him as the "most modern spirit, too modern, probably, to be fully recognized or appreciated at present; but his place will be recognized in the future."

"Of all the distinguished artists to emerge from the Cincinnati School in the 19th century, John Twachtman made the most impact on a national scale. He had an instinctive understanding of contemporary European art -- what we love today as impressionism -- but his works are undeniably American in their honesty and love of nature," says Dr. John Wilson, CAM Curator of Paintings and Sculpture.

"John Twachtman, An American Impressionist" reveals how Twachtman's work evolved as he responded to the artistic issues of his time. The exhibition and accompanying catalogue examine how the artist combined a variety of turn-of-the-century European and American artistic influences, including French Impressionism, to create a highly individual style.

Judy Larson, organizing curator of the exhibition and Executive Director of the Art Museum of Western Virginia, emphasizes that this exhibition contains representative works of art from every major period of Twachtman's career. "It is only through the assistance of a number of private collectors across the United States that we have been able to gather together so many stunning examples of Twachtman's artistic achievement. Overall, the paintings and pastels in this exhibition reveal the emotional range of Twachtman's responses to nature from the quiet, contemplative mood of the Greenwich winters to the forceful exuberance of Gloucester Harbor," according to Larson.

Arranged chronologically, the exhibition is divided into four periods: the early Venice and New York years; Twachtman's time of study in France and Holland; his mature years in Connecticut; and the late Gloucester, Massachusetts period. Although Twachtman's reputation today rests principally on his work as an Impressionist painter, this exhibition reveals the vigor of his harbor scenes in Munich-style realism, the quiet moodiness of his Tonalist landscapes, and the power of abstraction in his late Gloucester scenes.

"John Twachtman: An American Impressionist" is organized by the High Museum of Art, Atlanta. The exhibition is made possible by The Henry Luce Foundation. The exhibition is presented locally by The Otto M. Budig Family Foundation.

The Museum has organized in conjunction with the Twachtman painting exhibition a complete set of Twachtman's prints. His career as a printmaker took place during the etching revival, a period of renewed enthusiasm for etching among artists, critics and collectors. The 30 prints, some in multiple impressions, demonstrate Twachtman's experimentation through various states, inkings and papers. The works are drawn from the CAM's permanent collection and supplemented with generous loans including related pastels. This show follows his printmaking activity beginning in New York, New Jersey and Cincinnati in 1879 to Europe in Venice and Holland and ending in 1893 with his work on the Eastern seaboard. The exhibition is based on new scholarship of Twachtman's prints which presents the discovery of six new prints with a reevaluation of the titles and dates. John Twachtman, American Impressionist Painter as Printmaker, A Catalogue Raisonné of his Prints by Mary Welsh Baskett, published by Hudson Hills Press, will be available in the Cincinnati Art Museum's Shop.

Images from top to bottom: Arques-la-Bataille, 1885, oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art; Icebound (also called Snowbound), c. 1890-93, oil on canvas, Art Institute of Chicago; The White Bridge, 1895-1900, oil on canvas, Minneapolis Institute of Arts; In the Greenhouse, c. 1895, oil on canvas, North Carolina Museum of Art; On the Terrace, 1897, oil on canvas, National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian, Washington; Springtime, c. 1884, oil on canvas, Cincinnati Art Museum

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For further biographical information on selected artists cited in this article please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

rev. 10/18/10


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