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 50 Years/50 Artworks      

37.
 
Next Work of Art

John Henry Twachtman
(American, 1853–1902)
Spring Landscape
n.d. (ca. 1890s)
oil on canvas, 17" x 22"
Gift of Mrs. E. L. Tuohy

John Henry Twachtman’s Spring Landscape is less a depiction of a specific place, and more a sensual evocation of a particular time of year. The artist probably abstracted this small slice of a larger landscape from the Greenwich, Connecticut farm to which he moved with his wife and son around 1888. By carefully manipulating the tonal variations of a close range of grays and greens, and rapidly shifting the direction of his brushwork, Twachtman animated the scene for the viewer to the extent that the moist, cool springtime breeze can be almost literally felt. Inventing his own unique combination of monochromatic, tonalist color and thick daubs and strokes of paint, Twachtman experimented with a variety of textures, from areas of glossy, fluid-like paint, to passages of dry, chalky color. Unlike the French impressionist Claude Monet, with whom he was favorably compared, Twachtman did not intend his paintings to employ a full range of color but instead relied on shifting tones of closely related hues and textural effects to enliven the subject. His works appeared distinctly modern in comparison with earlier Dutch. French and American Hudson River School landscapes, in that they came to be composed almost entirely of land, with a single dominant compositional focus – in this case, the diagonal formed by a sharply receding road at left, and the small trees and gate at right – instead of the standard panoramic scene of far distant land, sky and horizon.

Twachtman began his career painting floral window shades for his father’s business in Cincinnati, while studying at the Ohio Mechanics Institute and the McMicken School of Design. At the Cincinnati School of Design, he worked with Frank Duveneck, with whom he traveled to Munich in 1875. On a subsequent trip to Europe in 1883, Twachtman studied with Jules Lefebvre and Louis Boulanger at the Academie Julian in Paris. where he was strongly influenced by the American expatriate painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler and the French impressionists. The evolution of his unique style advanced through the dark earth tones and fluid brushwork of Duveneck and the Munich School, to the more abstract compositions and tonal harmonies of Whistler, and finally to a highly individualistic tonal interpretation of Impressionism. Twachtman was a co-founder of “Ten American Painters” (“The Ten”), a group of established artists who exhibited together between 1898 and 1918, forming what was called an “unofficial academy of American impressionism.” Of the group, Childe Hassam, Julian Alden Weir. Willard Metcalf, and Twachtman were known for their rejection of descriptive, formulaic landscape painting. in favor of more innovative views of nature and qualities of paint surface. Although he died at the age of 49 in 1902 without receiving a great measure of critical or popular success, today Twachtman is thought of as a significant artist whose unique approach to impressionism served as a bridge between academic landscape painting and more expressionistic and abstract tendencies in painting.

 
 
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