Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

Left photo: David Graham, Right photo: Nathan Benn

Philadelphia, PA

(215) 972-7600


Impressionists at PAFA: From Beaux to Benson


In conjunction with the John Twachtman: An American Impressionist exhibition--the central feature of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts' Impressionism in an American Light thematic offerings this fall--selected paintings from the Museum's permanent collection, as well as outside lenders, will be highlighted in Impressionists at PAFA: From Beaux to Benson running through January 2, 2000.

This installation examines the Academy's critical role in the development and promotion of the experimental style in this country through the works of Twachtman's contemporaries and successors, including Cecilia Beaux, Childe Hassam, Frank W. Benson and Daniel Garber.

As a special feature of this display, a major work by the much beloved French impressionist Claude Monet--Spring in Giverny (I890)--will be on loan to the Academy from the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Monet, of all the French painters, exerted the greatest influence on the American impressionists, teaching and befriending many of them during their time abroad. Twachtman's work and approach, in particular, are highly suggestive of Monet's, from the serial imagery of his Greenwich. Connecticut, farm--which paralleled the French painter's views of Giverny--to the more technically sophisticated, nearly abstract work of his later years. Significantly, the two artists exhibited together at New York' s American Art Galleries, in 1893, and Twachtman's work was often compared to Monet's by American critics. The generous loan of Spring in Giverny, thus, provides both a critical context and an important example of artistic cross-fertilization for the Academy's impressionist displays.

The 1892 appointment of Harrison Morris as managing director of the Academy signaled a new direction for the institution. A great promoter of impressionism in this country, Morris was responsible for appointing many of the leading American practitioners to the school's faculty and for including them in the museum's juried annual exhibitions, which grew in national prestige throughout the 1890s. Hailed as the "Dawn of a New American Art," the 1892 annual introduced impressionism to the Philadelphia area vis-à-vis the work of leading American artists. To further excite public interest, the Academy borrowed from local collections four paintings by Monet.

This exhibition, heavily promoted by Morris, marked a transformation of the Academy's aesthetic practice in both the School and the Museum. No longer associated merely with the realistic study of the human form, the institution embraced the introduction of more painterly techniques, plein-air (or outdoor) landscapes, and an overall concern for "light, air and color." That American painters and viewers were more attracted to the subject matter and bright palette than to the experimental brushwork of the avant-garde French style explains the Academy's enthusiastic reception.

Despite dismissive critical reactions to the style as a mere fad, impressionism lingered for decades as one of the most popular offerings at the Academy's annual exhibitions. Between 1890 and 1930, all of America's most revered impressionist painters--including Hassam and Twachtman--received awards in these annuals, and many impressionist works entered the Museum's collection. Moreover, the growing passion for landscape painting led to the 1917 establishment of a summer sketching program at Chester Springs, Pennsylvania, a program that lasted until 1952. Today, Academy instructors continue to offer plein-air summer classes on the grounds of this former "Country School."

Images from top to bottom: Walter Elmer Schofield, Winter, 1899, oil on canvas, 29 1/2 x 36 inches, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Henry D. Gilpin Fund; Childe Hassam, Cat Boats, Newport, 1901, oil on canvas, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Joseph E. Temple Fund; Frank Benson, Great White Herons, 1933, oil on canvas, 44 x 36 1/8 inches, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Joseph E. Temple Fund

Revised 10/23/99

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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. 11/1/10

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