Theodore Earl Butler
1861-1936 | AmericanValley of the Seine, Giverny
Signed "T.E. Butler" (lower right)
Oil on canvas
Theodore Earl Butler was a leading figure of the American Impressionist movement, and this oil on canvas stands as one of the highlights of his oeuvre. The work represents the artist's lifelong experimentation with atmosphere and color, revealing Butler's impressionist technique that was greatly influenced by his father-in-law Claude Monet. In fact, the present oil, entitled Valley of the Seine, Giverny
, depicts the rolling hills of Giverny, the picturesque northern French village where Monet and Butler made their homes. The work embodies the informality and spontaneity of the Impressionist approach, which sought to capture the fleeting atmosphere of a moment in a single composition.
Executed on a grand scale and employing a dynamic birds-eye perspective, Butler embraces the sublime in this composition. The artist captures a vast view of Giverny with several charming details, including the artist’s own home in the lower left. The suggestion of a train, producing a tower of billowing smoke, adds a sense of movement and life to the canvas. A circular composition gives a pleasing sense of order to the monumental composition, leading the viewer’s eye along the paths and hills of the landscape. The impressive scale of this piece only adds to its beauty, as this work is the largest size Butler ever painted, and one of only three such examples.
In Valley of the Seine, Giverny
, Butler makes use of several artistic strategies not seen in his previous works. The painting is filled with brilliant light and vibrant, unexpected color — a palette of intense yellows, pinks, greens and blues applied freely. In the upper portion of the canvas, the artist tilts the compositional plane forward, flattening the perspective and pushing the work nearly to the point of abstraction. The vitality of the landscape is perfectly conveyed through the artist’s suggestive application of paint, resulting in a scene that feels both energetic and spontaneous. His highly dynamic style is firmly within the artistic tradition of the French Impressionists, while also revealing the artist's own distinctive modernity.
Born in Ohio in 1861, Theodore Earl Butler spent most of his life and career living abroad in France. He studied briefly under William Merritt Chase at the Art Student's League in New York before traveling to Paris in the 1880s. Once there, he entered the famed Académie Colarossi and Académie Julian, and won his first honorable mention at the Paris Salon in 1888.
That same year, Butler traveled to Giverny, where he became an intimate friend of Claude Monet. He became so close to the family that he eventually married the famed French Impressionist’s stepdaughter, Suzanne Hoschedé. Following Suzanne’s death, Butler married another stepdaughter of Monet, Marthe Hoschedé. Throughout this period, the artist and his family lived in Giverny, with Butler painting side-by-side with his father-in-law. The present work was painted in 1912 and is one of the last he completed in Giverny before the start of World War I, which prevented Butler from returning to France until 1921.
Though relatively unknown early in his career, by the turn of the century, Butler was among the most celebrated American artists working in France. He had several one-person shows in New York City, including a 1900 exhibition at the famed Paul Durand-Ruel gallery. In 1913, he contributed two works to the Armory Show in New York, and he became a founding member of the Society of Independent Artists in 1916. Today, the artist's works can be found in important collections around the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), the Musée des Impressionnismes (Giverny), the Carnegie Museum of Art (Pittsburgh) and the Birmingham Museum of Art
This painting will be included in Patrick Bertrand's forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the work of Theodore Earl Butler.
Painted in 1912
Canvas: 45 3/4" high x 45 1/2" wide
Frame: 53 1/4" high x 53 3/8" wide
Estate of the artist, 1936.
Jimmy P. Butler, son of the artist, by descent from the above.
Spanierman Gallery, LLC, New York.
Maxwell Galleries, Ltd., San Francisco.
Acquired from the above by previous owner, August 8, 1979.
M.S. Rau, New Orleans
San Francisco, Maxwell Galleries, Ltd., Theodore Butler: American Impressionist
, June 16-July 17, 1972, pp. 62, 76, no. 726, illustrated.
R.H. Love, Theodore Earl Butler: Emergence from Monet's Shadow
, Chicago, 1985, pp. 359, 363, 429, pl. 76, illustrated.