High Museum of Art

Atlanta, GA




John Twachtman: An American Impressionist


The High Museum of Art will present a major retrospective of paintings by one of the most significant American Impressionists, John Henry Twachtman (1853-1902), from February 26 - May 21, 2000. The exhibition "John Twachtman: An American Impressionist" will feature more than fifty paintings and pastels from various phases of the artist's career. The exhibition opened at the Cincinnati Art Museum and then traveled to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (see John Twachtman: An American Impressionist (5/29/99) and updated (10/6/99)) (left: In the Sunlight, c. 1893, oil on canvas, 30 x 25 inches, Private Collection)

This exhibition highlights the career of an important American artist who was active during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. "This exhibition includes many paintings by Twachtman that scholars have recently discovered, which will be exhibited along with his well-known masterworks," states Judy L. Larson, organizing curator of the exhibition, now Executive Director of the Art Museum of Western Virginia. The exhibition includes works from thirty-three American public collections and fifteen private collections. It shows how the artist's work evolved as he responded to the artistic issues of his time. The exhibition and catalogue examine how the artist combined a variety of European and American artistic influences, including French Impressionism and James McNeill Whistler's elegance, to create an individual style. (right: Waterfall, Blue Brook, c. 1895-1900, oil on canvas, 25 1/8 x 30 1/16 inches, Cincinnatti Art Museum, Annual Membership Fund)

"Twachtman challenged the artistic traditions of his time," says Linda Merrill, Margaret and Terry Stent Curator of American Art at the High, "using unconventional compositions, innovative techniques, and highly personal interpretations of nature."

The exhibition will be divided into three parts--the early Venice and New York years and Twachtman's time of study abroad; his mature years in Connecticut, when he developed his Impressionist style; and the last years of his life, spent largely in Gloucester, Massachusetts.

Although Twachtman's reputation today rests principally on his work as an Impressionist painter, this exhibition will also reveal the vigor of his harbor scenes in Munich-style realism, the quiet moodiness of his tonalist landscapes, and the powerful abstraction of his late Gloucester Scenes.

Judy Larson emphasizes that this exhibition contains representative works of art from every major period of Twachtman's career. "It is only through the assistance of a number of private collectors across the United States that we have been able to gather together so many stunning examples of Twachtman's artistic achievement. Overall, the paintings and pastels in this exhibition reveal the emotional range of Twachtman's responses to nature -- from the quiet, contemplative mood of the Greenwich winters to the forceful exuberance of Gloucester Harbor."

"John Twachtman: An American Impressionist" is made possible by The Henry Luce Foundation. Generous support is also provided by the National Endowment for the Arts.



The exhibition was organized by the High Museum of Art, Atlanta. Michael E. Shapiro has served as Deputy Director and Chief Curator of the High since 1995 and on January I, 2000 becomes the acting Director of the High Museum of Art. Judy L. Larson, former Curator of American Art at the High (1985-98) is organizing curator of the exhibition. Linda Merrill, Margaret and Terry Stent Curator of American Art at the High, serves as curator of record.


John Twachtman

Born in 1853 in Cincinnati to German immigrant parents, John Henry Twachtman received early artistic training in his hometown. In 1875, Frank Duveneck, a friend and teacher, invited the young artist to accompany him to Munich. Twachtman readily adopted the characteristic dark palette and rapid open brushwork of his Munich colleagues. After refining his painting skills on a trip to Venice in 1877, he returned to the United States and developed a forceful, realist manner, capturing the energy of urban life in Cincinnati and New York. (left: Gloucester, c. 1900-1902, oil on canvas, 25 x 30 inches, Fine Arts Collection of the Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Comapny, Connecticut)

Twachtman departed for Paris in 1883 with his wife and son to study with the popular teachers associated with the Académie Julian. Twachtman continued to improve his drawing skills, and the works from this period reflect an increasing interest in composition. The Salon-size landscape painting Arques-la-Bataille (Metropolitan Museum of Art) represents the pinnacle of Twachtman's French period. Its stark composition and tonal palette reveal the influence of James McNeill Whistler as well as the vogue for the flattened spaces and decorative patterns of Japanese art.

As seen in Along the River, Winter (High Museum of Art), Twachtman was especially fond of winter landscapes. He explained to a fellow artist, "We must have snow and lots of it. Never is nature more lovely than when it is snowing. Everything is so quiet and the whole earth seems wrapped in a mantle... all nature is hushed to silence."

In the late 1880s, Twachtman settled in Greenwich, Connecticut. Family life at his seventeen-acre farm provided the leading subject matter for his art through the next decade. He returned to specific sites on the property and painted them repeatedly during different seasons, seeking to convey his personal response to the sensuous aspects of nature. By the mid-1890s, Twachtman had become fully identified with the Impressionist movement, and American critics often compared him to Claude Monet. Twachtman's brushwork, however, differed from the broken strokes of other American Impressionists. He varied his paint application from rich, tactile strokes to dry, chalky surfaces. His palette brightened during the 1890s, when he often depicted close-up views of flowers, corners of his garden, and other favorite spots on the farm, as in The White Bridge (Minneapolis Institute of Art) and Waterfall, Blue Brook (Cincinnati Art Museum).

In 1897, Twachtman became a founding member of the Ten American Painters (or "The Ten"), a group of artists who seceded from the Society of American Artists and exhibited together for the next twenty years. Of The Ten, J. Alden Weir, Childe Hassam, Willard Metcalf and Twachtman were united by their rejection of descriptive art in favor of more subjective, innovative interpretations of nature. Twachtman created some of his boldest and most experimental works for inclusion in this group's exhibitions.

By the turn of the century, Twachtman was spending his summers in the artists' colony of Gloucester, Massachusetts. Boldness and spontaneity is characterize his late Gloucester subjects, which are among the strongest and most aggressive works of his career. In these paintings he returned to the broadly brushed style of his Munich period and reintroduced black into his palette to capture the grittier images of life in Gloucester's commercial fishing docks. As seen in Wild Cherry Tree (Albright-Knox Art Gallery) or Harbor View Hotel (Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art), his use of daring compositions with geometric abstraction suggests an innate understanding of twentieth-century modernism. (left: On the Terrace, c. 1897, oil on canvas, 25 x 30 1/8 inches, National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian, Washington)

Upon Twachtman's death in 1902, his colleague Thomas W. Dewing recognized the artist's avant-garde status by describing him as the "most modem spirit... too modern, probably, to be fully recognized or appreciated at present; but his place will be recognized in the future...."


RL editor's note:

Recorded at the Sheldon Museum of Art, the audio file listed below enhances the understanding and enjoyment of visitors. Please click here to access John Twachtman's Bark and Schooner 1900. Sheldon Director Jan Driesbach discusses John Henry Twachtman's painting Bark and Schooner 1900 with Ashley Conaster, a senior majoring in Art History. Their talk is about three minutes.

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For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

rev. 12/27/10

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