American Impressionism: The Lure of the Artists' Colony

Reading Public Museum

This exhibition features one of the Reading Public Museum's greatest strengths--its collection of works by American Impressionists. Outstanding landscapes--ranging from snow-covered hills to sun-filled harbors--seascapes, and penetrating portraits imbued with rich textures, reveal the artists' interest in capturing the fleeting effects of light and atmosphere in their work. Artists' colonies played a critical role in the development of American Impressionism and this show explores those at Cos Cob and Old Lyme, Cape Cod (Provincetown), Cape Ann, Rockport, and New Hope Pennsylvania, among others.

Artists were attracted to colonies--usually located in the countryside or near waterways--within striking distance of major cities including New York, Philadelphia, and Boston, because they were able to exchange ideas, collaborate, and experiment, outside the confines of their urban studios. Many artists painted out-of-doors, creating loosely-brushed, light-filled, and often atmospheric compositions.

This alluring portrait of a young woman in a white dress seated on a hill, presumably under a tree, demonstrates the general principles of American Impressionism around the turn of the century. The painting captures the fleeting impression of sharp contrast of light and the deep, rich colors of a summer day, with bold, visible brushstrokes in a lightened color palette.

Farley, who specialized in portraits, such as this one with the suggestion of opulent interiors, studied at the Pennsylvania Academy with impressionists William Merritt Chase and Cecilia Beaux. This painting is remarkable in its rich textures: the elaborate pattern on the wall covering, the patterned upholstery on the settee, and luminous fabric of the sitter’s dress.

This extraordinary, spontaneous portrait shows Reid's wife, painter Mary Hiester Reid, fan in hand turning away from the viewer’s gaze. Her white garment is juxtaposed against the dark pines in the background. The diaphanous lace around her bodice and cuffs catches the light filtered through the trees.

At Cos Cob, Lawson studied with both J. Alden Weir and John Twachtman. It was at the Connecticut colony that Lawson first painted out-of-doors en plein air. High Bridge--Winter dates from Lawson's early period (between 1898 and 1915), when he lived for a time in Washington Heights, at the northern tip of Manhattan.

Philadelphia-born Schofield studied at the Pennsylvania Academy with Thomas Anshutz and met weekly with fellow students Robert Henri, John Sloan, William Glackens and Edward Redfield at Henri’s studio. This work won the Jennie Sesnan Gold Medal at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1903 at the 72nd Annual Exhibition.

The lush, rich layers of paint on the surface of this canvas reveal Redfield’s unique brand of impressionism. He used long brushstrokes, thickly applied. The artist, a leader of the New Hope colony, often finished his canvases in “one go," en plein air, sometimes strapping his paintings to trees on especially blustery winter days, knee-deep in snow.

Coppedge, who studied with William Merritt Chase at New York’s Art Students League, created paintings marked by their bold, sometimes arbitrary colors. They were described by critics as possessing “virility…if one may use that word in commenting upon the work of a woman painter….” Indeed, the vivid hues she employed contrasted with the more muted, naturalistic palettes of her New Hope colleagues.

Danish-born Carlsen counted impressionists Childe Hassam, J. Alden Weir, and John LaFarge among his closest colleagues. Carlsen established his reputation primarily sensuous still-life compositions and delicate, atmospheric landscapes and seascapes, such as the current example.

Charles Gruppe was born in Canada and moved at the age of ten to Rochester, New York. In the mid-1920s, the artist moved to Cape Ann, Massachusetts and spent the next 15 summers painting there. The artist studied in Holland and much of his work, including this very large painting, is inspired by his nearly twenty years spent there. This painting has an especially rich exhibition history including the official Salon in Paris (1908) and the International Exhibition in Berlin.

One of the few Pennsylvania impressionists to actually be born in Bucks County, Walter Baum studied painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. This winter scene is typical of his work, with confident brushwork and suggestion of atmospheric effects. The snow-blanketed village is Sellersville, Pennsylvania, located in northern Bucks County. Like Redfield, winter was the season he favored most in his compositions.

In addition to painting in Philadelphia, Ferguson also spent time on Cape Cod studying with Charles Webster Hawthorne. Her other teachers at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts included William Merritt Chase. This scene is typical of her work, depicting bustling Commercial Street in Provincetown. The artist remarked, “I like to paint the streets, crowded with people, happy when carts, automobiles, and people did not block my view, and strangers asked no questions."

Tack was a friend of John La Farge and studied with impressionist John Twachtman. By the teens, Tack’s work attracted the attention of Duncan Phillips, who became his close friend and chief patron. Although he painted landscapes and portraits in a realist and impressionist tradition, the artist turned to abstraction later in his career.

Foster, who was born in Maine and studied at New York's Art Students League, typically painted scenes of the New England countryside and sought out "intimate corners of his environment – usually tree-lined ponds, fields, and woodlands – that he liked to depict at contemplative times of day, such as dawn or dusk, and during intermediary times of year."

Martino was a first-generation American born in Philadelphia to Italian immigrants. There were seven brothers in the Martino family, each of them artists. The artist began exhibiting paintings at age seventeen and by 1925, he had already won awards. His earliest paintings of landscapes around New Hope along the Delaware display strong impressionist influence.

This impressionist garden painting may have been completed in the gardens of Candace Wheeler, a good friend to both George and Mary Reid. Wheeler’s gardens in Onteora, New York, where Wheeler established a summer art colony, were featured in a series of articles in the Atlantic Monthly.

Throughout the early decades of the 20th century, America's rich artists' colonies continued to attract well known artists and teachers as well as students seeking instruction in these picturesque locales. The collection at the Reading Public Museum has preserved the enduring legacy of American Impressionism, shedding light on the influences of these vital artistic communities.

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