Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Americans in Paris

American artists were, understandably, latecomers to Impressionism. There’s a time lapse of about a generation. Young American artists who had gone to Paris to have their art formed by the classical wisdom of tutors at art schools such as the Académie Julian were often as shocked by their first encounter with Impressionism as were the general public. When Julian Alden Weir – then studying under the classicist Jean Léon Gérôme – saw the First Impressionist Exhibition in 1874, he was repelled. “I never in my life saw more horrible things,” he wrote. His teacher would have concurred. When the French state was offered the collection of Gustave Caillebotte after his death in 1894, Gérôme was one of those violently opposed, describing the paintings of Monet and Pissarro as “rubbish”. Although half of Caillebotte’s collection was eventually accepted, forming the core of the Impressionist holdings of the Musée d’Orsay, the other half was refused, and is now in the Barnes Foundation. In this short survey of some North American etchers in Paris between the First Impressionist Exhibition and the First World War, I include Canadian artists as well as citizens of the USA; some, like Donald Shaw Maclaughlan, are claimed by both countries.

George Charles Aid (1872-1938)
La Meuse à Dordrecht
Etching, 1903

The American Impressionist George Charles Aid was born in Quincy, Illinois. After studying in Saint Louis, Aid went to Paris in 1899 to study at the Académie Julian under Jean-Paul Laurens and Jean Benjamin-Constant; his fellow students included Charles Cottet. George Charles Aid lived in Paris until 1912, sharing rooms in Montparnasse with the American Impressionist painter Richard Emil Miller. After a spell in Italy, George Charles Aid returned to America, settling in the artists colony at Tryon, North Carolina, where he died in 1938. Aid's etchings were strongly influenced by those of Whistler, and were brought back to public notice after a period of neglect in the 1977 exhibition The Stamp of Whistler at the Allen Memorial Art Museum. His etching La Meuse à Dordrecht shows a vigorous and powerful control of black-and-white.

Frank Milton Armington (1876-1941)
Bruges: le quai Long
Etching, 1909

Frank Milton Armington
Une rue à Nuremberg
Etching, 1912

The Canadian Impressionist Frank Milton Armington commenced his art studies in Toronto before travelling to France to study at the Académie Julian under Jean Benjamin-Constant and Jean-Paul Laurens, and at the Chaumière under Lucien Simon. Frank Milton Armington divided his career between France and Canada, exhibiting widely on both sides of the Atlantic. His wife Caroline Armington was also a noted etcher.

Clarence Alphonse Gagnon (1882-1942)
Vue de Rouen
Etching 1905

Clarence Alphonse Gagnon
La tour de l’horloge à Dinan
Etching, 1908

Clarence Alphonse Gagnon was born in Montreal. He studied under William Brymner, then went to Paris to study under Jean-Paul Laurens at the Académie Julian. He was elected a full member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in 1922. He spent most of the inter-war years travelling in Europe, but returned to Canada in 1936. There was a retrospective exhibition at the Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Quebec in 2006 - Clarence Gagnon: Dreaming the Landscape.

Lester George Hornby
Marchande de fleurs
Etching, 1914

Lester George Hornby was one of the founders of Rockport School in Massachussetts. After studying at the Rhode Island School of Design, Hornby went to Paris to study under J.-P. Laurens at the Académie Julian. Lester George Hornby is particularly remembered for his technically-complex etchings; there is a catalogue raisonné by Peter Falk.

Donald Shaw Maclaughlan (1876-1952)
La ruelle du pêcheur
Etching, 1903

Donald Shaw Maclaughlan
Paris ancien: l’église Saint-Séverin
Etching, 1903

Donald Shaw Maclaughlan
Paris moderne: la rue Gustave Flaubert
Etching, 1903

Donald Shaw MacLaughlan is claimed by both Canada (where he was born) and America (his family moved to Boston in 1890), but in fact he produced most of his art in France (where he studied at the Beaux-Arts, Paris) and Italy. His etchings are catalogued in Bruette, Descriptive Catalogue of the Etched Work of Donald Shaw MacLaughlan.

Orville Houghton Peets (1884-1968)
Constructeurs de barques à Concarneau
Etching, 1904

Orville Houghton Peets studied in France under J.-P. Laurens and Baschet, returning to America on the outbreak of WWI, where he became a member of the artists' colony in Woodstock. There is a large collection of the etchings and woodcuts of Orville Houghton Peets in the Cleveland Museum of Art; Peets was born in Cleveland.

Maurice Sterne (1878-1957)
Coney Island
Etching, 1904

Maurice Sterne was born in Memel, Latvia, and emigrated first to Russia and then to New York. From 1894-99 he attended the National Academy of Design, studying briefly with Thomas Eakins. He first exhibited with William J. Glackens in 1902. From 1904-7 he lived in Paris. From 1916-18 Maurice Sterne was married to Mabel Dodge, the friend and patron of D. H. Lawrence. There are 8 works by Maurice Sterne in the Phillips Collection. For further information, see Mayerson, Shadow and Light: The Life, Friends and Opinions of Maurice Sterne.

Everett Longley Warner (1877-1963)
Etching, 1904

Everett Longley Warner was born in Vinton, Iowa. Warner studied at the Art Students' League in Washington and New York before travelling to Paris in the early 1900s to continue his studies at the Académie Julian. Greatly influenced by the American Impressionists such as Childe Hassam, Everett Longley Warner settled in the Old Lyme Art Colony, known as the American Barbizon. Many of Everett Longley Warner's etchings are in the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme. His work was surveyed in Fusscas, The Art of Everett Longley Warner.

Herman Armour Webster (1878-1970)
La rue Brise-Miche en 1900
Etching, 1906

Herman Armour Webster
La place de l’hôpital à Strasbourg,
Etching, 1913

Born in New York and educated at Yale, Herman Armour Webster discovered Paris and its artistic ferment in 1900, and moved there in 1904 to study at the Académie Julian, where he was taught by J.-P. Laurens. There Webster befriended the etchers Fred Chadwick and Donald Shaw MacLaughlan, and was enthused by the etchings of Meryon and Whistler. From 1905, etching supplanted painting at the centre of Webster's art. Webster specialised in city scenes and landscapes; in his love of every corner of Paris he rivalled his friend, the etcher Eugène Béjot, who had taught Herman Armour Webster at the Académie Julian. Webster also travelled extensively in Europe, usually with Donald Shaw MacLaughlan as his artistic companion. One of the finest etchers of his day, Herman Armour Webster achieved a high reputation both in France and in the United States, where he exhibited frequently.

Julian Alden Weir (1852-1919)
Petite fille
Drypoint, 1911

Julian Alden Weir was born at West Point, New York. His elder brother John Ferguson Weir was also a notable painter, working in the landscape traditions of the Hudson River and Barbizon Schools. Julian Alden Weir studied in Paris in the 1870s, enrolling at the École des Beaux-Arts in 1873, just in time to catch the first Impressionist Exhibition of 1874, and as noted above to be scandalized by the new art. It was not until the 1890s that Weir fully understood the Impressionist revolution, and incorporated the lessons of the Impressionist aesthetic in his own art. Julian Alden Weir is today regarded as one of the most important American Impressionists, along with his close associates Albert Pinkham Ryder and John Henry Twachtman.


Anonymous said...

What a pleasant surprise. These etchings are more impressive than I might have expected from this group. American Impressionists are rather tame, mostly. The tonalists (Dewing, Dabo, Tryon, Birge Harrison, DeForest,etc.) are more to my taste. Even John Henry Twatchman's "Arque-la-Bataille" at the Metropolitan Museum is a tonalist work, and that's why it is one of his best, I think. Your selections demonstrate that the critics who charged the Impressioniists with being unable to draw were unfair and inaccurate.

Neil said...

Some of these etchings are a little too tightly drawn to really qualify as Impressionist. I particularly love the Sterne and Weir images for their freedom of line. Unfortunately my proof of the Weir drypoint is slightly marred by a previous collection stamp (not visible in the image I posted), but I really love its freedom and lightness of touch. And the Sterne too has a lovely freshness and sense of enjoyment.