American Impressionists United States 1885 - 1930
By Neal McLaughlin
Art collectors are motivated by many factors for decorating their homes,
landscapes and office buildings with the creations of world renowned and locally
Some collectors feel a connection with a work of art that transports them
back to a memorable period in their life while others appreciate the aesthetic
value, which adds to the ambiance of their favorite locale.
Art collecting was, and probably still is, to some degree, a status symbol
to the wealth and sophistication of a family name. This most certainly held true
for many of the American art patrons following the conclusion of the Civil War
Those people fortunate enough to prosper from the 4-year conflict proudly
announced their newfound riches through the construction of luxurious homes that
were filled with imported ornamental arts and paintings by old masters and
American art, prior to the Civil War was predominately of the Romantic
style: stark, vivid and using a compilation of definite lines and shapes.
However, soon after American art collectors began to adorn their lives with the
work of renowned artists of Europe, a new movement was underway and would soon
take root in the American art community.
Artists of the Impressionist movement had abandoned the traditional
techniques of the Romantic movement in favor of a more fluent, free-flowing
style to depict their personal experiences.
Unlike the traits associated with Academic artists, Impressionists
rejected the idea of total devotion to imaginary subjects and the tedious and
meticulous techniques. Instead, they opted for a style in which they could use
rapid brushstrokes with a palette of vivid, moving colors.
To the many young American artists whom were studying in Paris this new
"radical" style of painting was revolting. J. Alden Weir (1852-1919) who, would
later convert to Impressionism, in a letter to his parents described these
paintings to be worse than a chamber of horrors! However, for those American
painters who were inspired by Impressionism and would subscribe to its theory
and practice would find their careers to be both pleasing and profitable.
By the early 1890's, Impressionism had taken firm root in America and as
it began to branch outward it would become a recognized valid artistic style. As
the Impressionism movement gained momentum new opportunities presented
themselves for the many in-demand artists. Some would find themselves in
positions of teacher in the new art schools while others, like William Merrit
Chase would conduct summer classes for many years to follow.
While most American Impressionists preferred to leave behind the hectic
pressures of their urban lives, some artists like Childe Hassam (1859-1935) were
captivated by the continuous array of activities and motion which reflected
prominently in their finished paintings.
For those Impressionists who needed to escape from the congested and
chaotic city life, they were afforded the opportunity to spend time with their
colleagues in artist colonies which were secluded and surrounded by the serenity
of nature. Others, like Charles H. Davis, who valued the benefit of solitude
would spend his time painting in Mystic, along the Connecticut shore.
Although deeply devoted to outdoor painting where they were able capture
the effects of natural light and movement over a period of time, American
Impressionists never totally abandoned their studio habits. Mary Cassatt,
(1845-1926) for instance was inspired by the activities of people and to the
domestic life to which they were committed. Many of her paintings, created in
her studio, show women and children relaxing in a garden of tranquility or show
them engaged in a domestic chore with in interiors that emit a sense of
peace and harmony.
Impressionists expected their art to reflect modern life in a style that
was both vibrant and current. Most of these artists were willing to adhere to
their convictions in order to achieve this goal. However, there were a select
few who were anxious only to accommodate the developing taste of the collectors
and these artists merely adopted the surface effect of Impressionism.
Whether these devoted Impressionists were painting the natural
surroundings of their colonies, the frantic pace of urban life or creating a
serene garden hosting a tea party for mom and child, one element remained; to
capture the true essence of Impressionism.
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