Editor's note: The following article relates to the exhibition Anna Richards Brewster, American Impressionist, being held at the Hudson River Museum June 21 through September 7, 2008. The article was published in Resource Library on July 17, 2008 with permission of the author. If you have questions or comments regarding the text, please contact the Hudson River Museum directly through either this phone number or web address:
Anna Richards Brewster, American Impressionist
This summer the Hudson River Museum is pleased to host the exhibition Anna Richards Brewster: American Impressionist. Brewster (1870-1952), daughter of the American Pre-Raphaelite painter William Trost Richards, was one of the best-known women artists of her day and is also one of the most talented associated with Westchester County, New York, where the Hudson River Museum is located. She moved to Scarsdale in 1910 with her husband, who taught at Barnard College. The exhibition -- organized for the Fresno Metropolitan Museum, Fresno, California, by Dr. Judith Maxwell, in collaboration with Susan Brewster McClatchy -- displays Brewster's gifted versatility with fine examples of her landscape paintings, travel scenes, still lifes, portraits, and book illustrations.
Brewster began her career influenced by her father's detailed style and conviction that the natural world was an expression of God, but she gradually developed a looser, impressionistic manner. As a young woman, she studied in France and lived for several years in England. The exhibition includes several pieces from these early years, including an oil of Clovelly, a seaside resort village where she lived and painted, and several views of London, where she had a studio. The painterly gem Window from My Studio (Cheyne Gardens, London) (1900-1905), is typical of the misty scenes in which she captured the subdued, diffuse effects of light and fog on city streets and buildings.
The same year she moved to Westchester, Brewster suffered the tragic death of her only son. Devasted by this loss, she nevertheless continued to paint, perhaps finding consolation in her verdant suburban surroundings. The luminous watercolor Duck Pond on Heathcote Road (1920) is just one of many local landscapes she produced during these years. She also founded the Scarsdale Art Association and taught studio art classes in her home. During her husband's sabbaticals, the couple traveled extensively through Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, where she invariably used her art to record favorite scenes. These works are distinguished from tourist memorabilia by their mood, atmosphere and high level of observed detail. The exhibition includes bold, colorful landscapes, like Mt. Etna From Taormina, Sicily, as well as more delicate views with a muted palette, like A Market in Biskra, Algeria (1926). Brewster was equally adept at creating tense compositions in which architecture frames and nearly cuts off a narrow path into the scene or panoramas in which large, detailed foreground elements stand out against an atmospheric background. The Via Dolorosa, Jerusalem and Venice, Italy, both from around 1933, typify the former, while in Mt. Etna and Italian Gardens at Mount Vesuvius, excellent examples of the latter, Brewster's elimination of a middle ground makes the near/far contrast highly dramatic.
Selections of floral still lifes, portraits and illustrations show Brewster's early and continuing mastery of those genres. Brewster worked with her own mother, a poet, on the book A New Alice in the Old Wonderland (1895) and always demonstrated confident design and clever scene choices in her graphic work. Her family portraits, including an early one of her father in 1888, make personal statements both graceful and intense. She depicts her father in his studio, painting one of the meticulously observed seascapes that were his trademark. Showing his face turned slightly away from the viewer, she conveys as much information through his erect posture and right hand poised to add paint to the canvas within a canvas. In A Cup of Tea in Holland (c. 1902), Brewster similarly characterizes the two woman by focusing on their poses, costumes and setting, while their self-contained lack of engagement with the viewer adds to the quiet mood.
Though she marketed her art most actively in her twenties and early thirties, Brewster painted and exhibited steadily throughout most of her long life. Overall, Anna Richards Brewster: American Impressionist is a visually stunning display, yet it also has added depth and relevance in its examination of the struggles and triumphs of a woman faced with the "glass ceiling" of a male-dominated art world at the turn of the twentieth century.
The exhibition is accompanied by a major catalogue published by University of California Press and Susan Brewster McClatchy and edited by the exhibition's curator, Judith Maxwell Kafka, who is also one of the authors. The book features an introduction by noted scholar Wanda M. Corn as well as essays by Leigh Culver, Maxwell, McClatchy, and Kirsten Swinth. Anna Richards Brewster, American Impressionist closes at the Hudson River Museum on September 7, 2008; and then travels to the Butler Institute for American Art, Youngstown, Ohio (September 27-December 28, 2008) and the Fresno Metropolitan Museum, Fresno, California (March 28-June 14, 2009).
About the author
Laura Vookles is Chief Curator of Collections at the Hudson
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