American art has sometimes been overlooked by collectors in favor of the paintings and sculptures of Europe, especially in the realm of Impressionism. American artists followed in the footsteps of the Europeans when it came to this avant-garde style of painting. The French Impressionist movement has long been a darling of the art market, however, collecting American works can lead to a more well-rounded collection, not to mention give you an interesting look into how our young country has been shaped culturally.
American Impressionism has grown significantly in influence and popularity in recent years. For instance, the Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibited a retrospective of Childe Hassam's work entitled Childe Hassam, American Impressionist in 2004 and in 2016, the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts hosted an exhibit of Hassam's work entitled American Impressionist: Childe Hassam and the Isle of Shoals. Also in 2016, William Merritt Chase was the subject of a retrospective at the Phillips Collection in Boston.
Our latest fine art exhibition entitled From Sea to Shining Sea: 200 Years of American Art showcases the true depth and breadth of American Art and its section on Impressionism encourages a closer look at how these artists created a distinctly American point-of-view within this modern art genre. With this exhibition now in full swing, we can look to it for insights on building a meaningful collection of American paintings on canvas.
Read on to discover some American artists worth considering for your next artwork purchase and what makes each one unique.
Childe Hassam, although lesser known overall than his French counterparts, is represented in many of the greatest art institutions in America including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Smithsonian, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and even in the premiere museum for Impressionism, the Musée d'Orsay. He, out of all the American Impressionists, is perhaps the most in line with the idea of depicting a modern urban life that the French artists were so known for, setting him apart from his American contemporaries who mostly dealt in distinctly American landscapes, country or coastal scenes, and domestic portraits. He was a master of capturing the essence of cities like Paris or New York.
In this example, we see a bustling city on race day, composed while the artist was living in Paris. He was no doubt influenced by his surroundings and the urban scenes his French contemporaries like Monet were painting at the time.
William Merritt Chase
William Merritt Chase is widely regarded as the first major American artist to create Impressionist works in the United States with his series of images of New York’s new public parks from 1886. But aside from being a painter, Chase was a well-respected educator, first taking on private pupils until eventually founding the Chase School, now known as the Parsons School of Design. He, along with Robert Henri, were the leading art instructors around the turn of the 20th century and he was able to count great artists such as George Bellows and Georgia O'Keeffe among his students. He was highly influential in the shaping of the fine art output of America in the 20th century.
A huge proponent of the plein air method of painting, he would often hold classes outdoors. The painting below was created during one such lesson as an example to his students. We know this is the case because of the abbreviated signature that he employed for these classroom examples, “Chase” rather than his more formal "Wm. M. Chase". It is an enlightening look into his teaching methods and skilled technique with this fresh and exciting approach to painting.
Martha Walter is considered one of the foremost female Impressionists and is celebrated for her warm, intimate depictions of women and children. She grew up in Philadelphia and was even taught by the aforementioned William Merritt Chase while living there.
While many American artists studying abroad in the early 20th century were based in Paris or Giverny, there was a smaller contingent living in the Brittany region. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, Brittany was a conservative area of France, maintaining old social and religious practices amid the modernity sweeping through other parts of the country. This played a large part in making Walter's aesthetic unique. Domestic and leisure scenes were popular in Impressionism, especially for women working in the genre, and Walter was no exception. The exceptions for her compositions were the Brenton subjects in their traditional, conservative dress - quite a contrast to the emphasis on the modern in most Impressionist works. She also utilized black paint, a color avoided by most Impressionists, but necessary to depict this culture. The painting below is a textbook example of both of these qualities that sets Walter apart in such a wide and diverse field of artists.
Frederick Carl Frieseke
Frederick Carl Frieseke was born in Michigan and studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, but eventually settled in Giverny. Although based in Monet's hometown, he was more influenced by Renoir. He primarily dealt in figure painting, particularly female figures. He delighted in playing with pattern and was adventurous with color, as you can see in the painting below with its contrasting but complementary mixing of patterns on the drapes, crib, and the woman's dress. Many Impressionists were inspired by Japanese prints, and mimicked their flat, pattern-on-pattern effect, and we can see their influence often in Frieseke's work.
Although he did not work exclusively in the Impressionist style, Winslow Homer is perhaps best known for his works from coastal Maine that did often lean toward the movement. He began his career painting in the Realist style depicting genre scenes of idyllic rural life in America, many involving children, that evoked a sense of peace and optimism after the devastating Civil War. This reflection on the Civil War began his interest in capturing fleeting, carefree and hopeful moments - concepts closely tied to Impressionism. What sets Homer apart is his preference for watercolor over oil paints. Often, watercolors are used for studies and can be considered incomplete works, however, Homer used them to their ultimate potential in evoking that “moment-in-time” feeling Impressionists longed to capture in their fully realized compositions. Watercolors were especially effective in his seascapes, which are his most famous and most desirable works. The New England coast is so unique and distinctly American, and Homer captured it like no other artist could.
To see M.S. Rau's full collection of American Art offerings, click here.