From Sargent to Cassatt: the many faces of American Impressionism
In their desire to capture the volatility of the current moment, artists from the New World did not lag behind their French colleagues, they ravaged Parisian studios and created their own with a national flavour. Instead of the vibrant life of noisy Parisian cafés and streets, quiet landscapes and simple joys of family life often appeared on their canvases. Unfortunately, even art lovers heard only a few names of those who were the originators of this trend in the United States. We decided to get it fixed by revealing the iconic American Impressionists for you. So let’s get to know them!
To Paris — for discoveriesThe writer Henry James once said: "If you want to find American art, you will find it in Paris. And if you don’t find it, you will find many other things in Paris". American artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries really ravaged the French capital. The need for European education was caused, first of all, by the fact that Americans felt a lack of academicism, methods and techniques of the classical school. Therefore, striving to master the academic basis, at first, they treated the techniques of their colleagues with distrust, considering them simply amateurish.
One way or another, every American painter dreamed of exhibiting in Parisian salons next to Monet and Renoir. Even during classes in Parisian art studios, it was difficult to refrain from impressionistic experiments.
Monet the teacherAmerican artists who visited the house of Claude Monet in North Normandy were the first to bring the "impressionism virus" in the United States. There, in the creative residence of Giverny in the Seine Valley, in 1886, the owner invited the painter John Sargent, the first of the Americans.
Subsequently, the artists who visited the place founded the American analogue of Giverny in the state of Connecticut, calling it Old Lime. They were guided by the Claudian traditions, at the same time inheriting their predecessors, painters from the Hudson River School, and the Frenchman Papa Corot. The core of American was The Ten creative group, and its geographic centre were Boston and New York.
American is a far cry from its older European brother, first of all, by sentimentality, the absence of scenes from never sleeping cabarets and restaurants, and colourful night streets. Instead, American painters often depicted landscapes and cosy family life. This can be explained by the Protestant faith prevailing among US artists.
The winter fairy taleJohn Henry Twachtman (1853—1902) was one of the leading representatives of The American Ten, teacher and painter who devoted himself mainly to painting American impressionistic landscapes. More than other seasons, Twachtman loved winter: there was much snow and ice-bound water on his canvases. Forming his own artistic style on the basis of impressionism, he tried to convey subtle changes in the state of nature.
Having returned from Florence to his home Connecticut, the artist settled at the Holy House farm, in a house with a garden and a veg patch that he often depicted in his paintings. Soon, Twachtman’s friends artists began to gather here, turning the estate into an art commune.
The Iron LadyTo go up against the parents' will, who did not want to see their daughter as an artist, to rush to Paris to study painting, to make friends with the badass Degas and exhibit at Parisian salons?! The American Mary Cassatt (1844—1926) was capable of doing all these.
The impressionist paintress spent almost all her life in France. Passion for overseas countries and travel was instilled in Cassatt since her childhood: by the age of 10, she managed to see all European capitals. Choosing the artistic path, she did not imitate her male colleagues in the least. When the girl faced their condescending and prejudiced attitude while studying drawing and painting in her native Pennsylvania, without thinking twice, she packed her suitcase and went to seek happiness in Paris. However, even here she faced discrimination: the fair sex representatives were forbidden to attend the Academy of Painting, so the American woman had to be content with classes in the Chaplin’s studio for women. Moreover, until the 1870s, ladies were denied access to meetings with like-minded people in cafés, where art fashion trends were discussed.
Probably, her character turned out to be of steel, or the Degas pastel she once saw in a shop window impressed her so much, but all these obstacles did not prevent Mary Cassatt from making her way to the American impressionistic Olympus.
It is a mistake to believe that the artist’s strong point was only feminine portraits of mothers with children. Cassatt, not having children of her own, however, did indeed create many paintings with plump nephews. But the artist, first of all, placed the woman’s intellectual principle at the head of her creativity, which tangibly comes to the fore in her paintings The Reading Woman, Tea, Autumn.
Her friendship with Degas, whom Cassatt considered her mentor until the end of her days and whose paintings she secretly bought with the money earned from the sale of her own paintings, opened Paris salons for her. Exhibiting together with Pissarro and Monet, Cassatt gained success, while continuing, however, to feel insecure about her own talent. In her advanced years, she visited Egypt, which amazed her imagination and made her take up her brush with zeal. Despite her illness, Cassatt continued to paint. Only complete blindness stopped her.
Lucky ChaseAnother founder of American , William Merritt Chase (1849—1916), was fortunate enough to gain recognition from both art connoisseurs and art critics. It is hard to believe that this self-taught artist from Indiana, who worked in his father’s shop for a long time, became the head of the Society of American Artists and taught at the National Academy of Design many years later. By the way, Edward Hopper himself was among his students!
Portraits, scenes of American life, serene landscapes — Chase was interested in everything and could do anything. This is probably why he never lacked either money or fame.
The artist used the free brushstroke technique and pastel colours, combining realism and impressionism. He skilfully transformed ordinary travel scenes into pacifying landscapes with clear skies and simple panoramas, creating a romantic mood.
Connecticut with an oriental flavourThe life of Julian Alden Weir (1852—1919) was turned dramatically by the paintings of the French Impressionists he had seen at an exhibition in New York, among which were paintings by Édouard Manet, which inspired the American to his first experiments in this genre. The surroundings of his farm in Connecticut became the nature for impressionistic painting. At the same time, Weir continued painting portraits and floral still lifes, he was interested in graphics. By the way, later the artist enhanced his technique with the elements of Japanese colour graphics.
At the World’s Fair in Paris, his creative pursuits were awarded a silver medal, and shortly thereafter, Weir was commissioned a work for the World’s Columbus Exhibition held in Chicago.
Sargent’s “Prayer”John Singer Sargent (1856—1925) was an outstanding American portrait painter, whose work is often considered , despite his inheritance of Velázquez and Van Dyck. After all, Sargent was the first to be invited to Giverny by Claude Monet; in turn, he painted Monet working at the edge of the forest.
Whereas Camille Pissarro, on the contrary, was skeptical of Sargent’s work. By the way, it should be noted that the American’s canvases were totally covered with universal criticism. One of the accusations was the unrealistic beauty of the people depicted in the portraits. By the way, the artist was forced to leave Paris for London after an unpleasant episode with his portrait of one famous beauty, Virginie Gautreau, smashed to smithereens by the public and the model’s family for its alleged vulgarity.
However, the artist worked always and everywhere. The artist left a legacy of 900 oil paintings, and twice as many watercolours! It is not for nothing that the inscription on his tombstone reads: "To work is to pray".
Among the watercolours are his travel landscapes created during his trips around the world (by the age of 50, Sargent was bored with portraits; according to another version, he abandoned this genre after his favourite and beloved model married another man).
The greatest Sargent’s discovery in Impressionism was colour, the transmission of shadows and reflections, as well as plein air work, which he indulged in with great passion during his "summer holidays", when he had a rest from orders in picturesque corners of the world.
Urban Being a child, Frederick Childe Hassam (1859—1935) was firmly convinced of his artistic future. Therefore, the young watercolourist and draftsman dropped out of school and started working with , illustrating a number of American magazines. Tired of graphics, Hassam set off to paint Boston and its environs in a then naturalistic manner.
Success was not long in coming: already at the age of 23, the artist was selling his canvases at the first personal exhibition. A year later, he travelled to Europe, where he was impressed by Turner’s watercolours and created 67 of his own. In Paris, Hassam stayed for three years: he studied at the academy, exhibited in salons, at the same time, he illustrated books published in the United States and sold his works at auctions. Upon his return to the United States he finally joined the Impressionists and became one of the ideological leaders of The Ten.
Fifth Avenue and Washington Square — unlike his colleagues and contemporaries, who glorified nature in their pictures, Hassam preferred immersion in the accelerated heart rate of metropolitan areas, especially Boston and New York. His cityscapes met a ready market. In 1916, the artist began a series of canvases depicting flags of different countries.
Members of The Ten group left the Society of American Artists, accusing its leadership of mediocre talent, commercial approach to exhibitions, and oppression of impressionism by classicism and . The Ten have been organizing annual exhibitions in New York and Boston for long twenty years. The organization disintegrated because its ranks thinned out over the years. Beside that, the public expressed complaints about the creative activity of The Ten, called them "reactionary" in comparison with urban . The organization included Lewis Schenker, William Merritt Chase, John Twachtman, Edmund Charles Tarbell, Willard Metcalfe, Childe Hassam, Julian Alden Weir, Robert Reid, Edward Simmons, Frank Benson.