Swedish-American Works from the Hillstrom Collection

November 23, 2009 - January 29, 2010


Images of paintings in the exhibition


(above: Carl Sprinchorn (Swedish-American, 1887-1971), Purple Mountains, c.1946, Oil on canvas mounted on aluminum panel. Lent by and promised gift of Reverend Richard L. Hillstrom)


Sprinchorn was born in Broby, Skåne. He once described himself as the first person ever to come to America for the purpose of studying art. He had heard of the American painter Robert Henri (1865-1929), an influential teacher and the unofficial leader of the American modern art group known as the Ashcan School. Sprinchorn left Sweden for America in order to study with Henri, and he became closely involved with him, enrolling in the New York School of Art where Henri taught only eight days after arriving in the United States. In 1907 Sprinchorn became manager of Henri's new art school, formed when the older artist broke away from the New York School of Art. Sprinchorn held this position until 1910.

The Ashcan School was formed from The Eight, a group of painters led by Henri who, in protest over the exclusiveness of the National Academy of Art, had refused in 1908 to participate in the Academy's annual exhibition and held their own exhibit at the Macbeth Gallery instead. Henri had been unhappy when a painting by Sprinchorn -- a gritty image of New York's East Side after a snowstorm -- was rejected for display by the Academy, and this led him to form the splinter group.

Sprinchorn spent time, from 1912 to 1914, on the west coast, where he taught at the Art League in Los Angeles. He later directed the New Gallery in New York City, from 1922 to 1925, which promoted not only young American artists but also French modernist art.

Sprinchorn was closely associated with Maine, the locale depicted in this painting, starting in 1907, when he summered at Maine's coast. Later, he became interested in the mountainous areas of inland, or "North Woods" Maine, and he lived in a Swedish settlement in Monson for two years, from 1919 to 1921, then between 1937 and 1952 he went back and forth between New York City and the small settlement of Shin Pond, Maine, where he would spend months at a time and where he frequently depicted the woodsmen involved in the lumber business there. He rented lodging from Shin Pond House, a boarding house in Shin Pond, which was located in the township of Mt. Chase, the mountain shown in this painting. The scene here is one the artist depicted on numerous occasions, and it is similar to the view from his boarding house window.

This painting is typical of Sprinchorn's abstracting, modernist approach. While he always remained connected with realism, and never abandoned recognizable imagery for pure abstraction, he eliminated detail in pursuit of an expressive kind of work. To paraphrase a recent critical appraisal of Sprinchorn, from a 2002 retrospective exhibition organized by the Bates College Museum of Art in Lewiston, Maine: while the artist was committed to the authenticity of his subject matter, he used means similar to those employed by an abstract artist, including figure and ground relationships that diverge from normal perspective; expressive use of color; and a painterly application of paint that demonstrates relish for the act of painting.

Purple Mountains shows the artist's typical style. Its coloration is abstracted but seems to suggest an autumnal view of Mt. Chase. Sprinchorn was perennially interested in capturing Maine's fall colors, and does so here in a very expressive manner. This work is similar to others from this period, supporting a date of around 1946. The catalogue for an exhibition of Sprinchorn's works held in 1943 at Macbeth Gallery in New York City included art critic Christian Brinton's poetic observation, "We are under the purple shadow of Mt. Katahdin." This statement, though referencing Maine's largest mountain, Mt. Katahdin, located many miles away from Mt. Chase, seems prescient of the purple used in this painting for Mt. Chase.

Sprinchorn also depicted Mt. Katahdin, as did his close friend, American Modernist Marsden Hartley (1877-1943), who came to the region starting in 1939, relying on Sprinchorn's guidance for lodging, supplies, and getting acquainted with guides who knew the area.

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