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Sunlight and Shadow: American Impressionist Paintings

 

Originated by Monet, Renoir, Pissarro and others in the 1870s in France, Impressionism revolutionized painting through its emphasis on capturing the fleeting effects of light. Pure, high-key colors and broken brushstrokes came to be associated with the movement, as did painting outdoors with the goal of capturing a moment in time. But as the style made its way across the Atlantic during the remainder of the 19th century, American artists often adapted the style to suit their own purposes. (right: George A. Hays (1854-1934, Picking Wildflowers, c. 1900, oil on canvas, 10 x 13 inches)

The broad range of their vision will be beautifully on view in "Sunlight and Shadow: American Impressionist Paintings," which will run from May 25 through July 24, 2004 at the Cahoon Museum of American Art in Cotuit, Mass. Featuring some 50 works -- mostly oil paintings -- dating roughly from 1890 through 1930, the exhibition is drawn entirely from the collection of James and Alice Lyons of Medfield.

Between 1999 and 2003, a collection of 70 of the Lyons' impressionist paintings traveled to 16 museums around the country, a tour arranged by the Kansas City company Smith Kramer. The show was very well-received in such far-flung states as Texas, Oklahoma and Wisconsin, but never came closer to the Cape than Brockton, where it was at the Fuller Museum of Art.

Full of dappled sunlight and sparkling color, Daniel F. Santry's "Picking Wildflowers, Duxbury, Mass." is an impressionist painting that's solidly in the French tradition -- and not unexpectedly, since Santry painted with Pissarro in the village of Pontoise outside Paris in 1882. Frederick D. Henwood's painting of haystacks is clearly an homage to Monet. Boston artist John J. Enneking's "Mount Washington, Spring Day" is alight with spots of tender green. Henry L. Parkhurst's "Steam Hammer" is an industrial scene, a far more unusual subject for an impressionist show. But the concern with light is definitely there.

Two works by Louis Kronberg -- a darkish formal portrait of a woman and a study of a North African, full of colorful, expressive brushstrokes -- provide an interesting example of how artists of the period often practiced two very different approaches, depending on their subject.

The Lyons collection is rich in works by talented women artists of the period, including Marion Pooke, who studied with famed impressionists Frank W. Benson and Edmund Tarbell at the Museum School in Boston; Laura Lee, a Boston painter who championed suffrage for women and was known as the "Bloomer Girl" because of her loose trousers; and Elizabeth Grandin, whose slashing portrait "The Sergeant" betrays her debt to Robert Henri.

Artists who painted on Cape Cod include Edward Herbert Barnard, Harold C. Dunbar and Helen Sawyer.

 

Editor's note: RLM readers may also enjoy the following the following artilces and essays on American Impressionsim::

 

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