San Diego Museum of Art

photo: John Hazeltine

Balboa Park, San Diego, CA



American Impressionists Abroad and at Home: Paintings from the Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art


Offering a rich overview of the development of American Impressionism from the late 1880s to the early 20th century, American Impressionists Abroad and at Home: Paintings from the Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, opens on January 27, 2001, at the San Diego Museum of Art, where it remains on view through April 22, 2001. Drawn from the Metropolitan's distinguished collection, the exhibition highlights the vibrant interpretations of modern life in Europe and the United States created by American artists who embraced French Impressionism.

American Impressionists Abroad and at Home showcases 39 canvases by 28 artists, including two pioneers of American Impressionism who caught the spirit of the new French painting during 1870s: Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) and John Singer Sargent (1856-1925). Whereas most of the future American Impressionists intended to return to the United States after studying abroad, Cassatt chose to settle in Paris in June 1874. Sargent, born in Florence to expatriate American parents and eighteen years old when he arrived in Paris with his family in May 1874, seems never to have envisioned a residence other than Europe. Among the other leading American Impressionists featured are William Merritt Chase (1849-1916), one of the founders of the American Federation of Arts, Childe Hassam (1859-1935), and a group of Americans who worked at various times in Claude Monet's home village, Giverny: Theodore Robinson (1852-1896), Willard Metcalf (1858-1925), and Frederick Carl Frieseke (1874-1939). (left: John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), Alpine Pool, ca. 1907, oil on canva, 27 1/2 x 38 inches, Gift of Mrs. Francis Ormond, 1950)

Beginning in the mid-1960s, hundreds of aspiring American painters were attracted to Paris by the quality of its art schools and by the fact that the city had become an artistic epicenter. Although the main purpose of their studies in Paris was the mastery of academic principles, some students became aware of the avant-garde approach of the French Impressionists, who made their debut in a private group exhibition in the spring of 1874. Rejecting academic principles, the French Impressionists espoused familiar modern subjects and rapid, plein-air painting. As awareness and appreciation of Impressionists grew among American collectors and critics by the mid-1880s, American painters increasingly experimented in the new style; in the 1890's, American Impressionism reached its apogee.

In describing the artists in the exhibition, guest curator H. Barbara Weinberg, The Alice Pratt Brown Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture at the Metropolitan remarks, "While some American painters responded to Impressionism only superficially, the most interesting of them grasped its essence, especially the conviction that their works should encode modern life in modern artistic terms." Weinberg and co-curator Susan G. Larkin, former Chester Dale Fellow and research associate at the Metropolitan, arranged the works into four thematic groups to suggest some of the ways in which the American Impressionists abroad and at home respond to aspects of the city and suburbs, the countryside, professional life, and the domestic scene during a dynamic period in history.

Included in the first section of the exhibition, "American Impressionists in the City and Suburbs," is Hassam's Broadway and 42nd Street (1902), which typifies the appeal to the American Impressionists of modern subjects such as burgeoning urban neighborhoods.

Larkin notes in the exhibition catalogue: "Even after Hassam had become identifies as an Impressionist, he retained a keen appreciation of the subtle atmospheric effects and united palette favored by the Tonalists. In New York, where he settled permanently in late 1889, this persistent Tonalism was especially appropriate; he worked in the city mainly during the winter, withdrawing to the countryside from early summer to mid-autumn. In Broadway and 42nd Street, the predominantly blue-black palette conveys the city's glamour on a winter evening." (left: Childe Hassam (1859-1935), Broadway and 42nd Street, 1902, oil on canvas, 26 x 22 inches, Bequest of Miss Adeliade Milton de Groot (1876-1967), 1967)

Seeking genuine counterparts of French Impressionist themes, the American Impressionists also chose sites that had local or national significance or that manifested national progress. Philip Leslie Hale's (1865-1931) Niagara Falls (1902), for instance, portrays the new Upper Steel Arch Bridge and the Niagara Falls Power Plant, suggesting that modern technology can coexist with an impressive natural setting.

In response to the growing challenges of modern life, there arose a yearning for a simpler, quieter past, as is illustrated in the section, "American Impressionists in the Countryside." Included are nostalgic rural scenes, such as Robinson's The Old Mill (Vieux Moulin) (ca. 1892), which portrays a mill at Giverny, forty miles northwest of Paris, where Monet had settled in 1883 and Robinson worked for many years, and the view of a remote fishing village portrayed in Walter Elmer Schofield's (1867- 1944) Sand Dunes near Lelant, Cornwall, England (1905). Depictions of artists' residences and neighborhoods were also common subjects. Gifford Beal's (1879-1956) The Albany Boat (1915) is a scene of excursionists on the Hudson River, which flowed past his house in Newburgh, NY and Edward Redfield's (1869-1965) Overlooking the Valley (1911) is one of many canvases in which the artist represented the landscape near his Pennsylvania home. (right: Theodore Robinson (1852-1896), The Old Mill (Vieux Moulin), ca. 1892, oil on canvas, 18 x 21 7/8 inches, Gift of Mrs. Robert W. Chambers, 1910)

Another important focus of these artists was their familiar workplaces, which inspired images of their studios and portraits of their students, teachers, and friends. Featured in the section "American Impressionists in Their Professional Environments" is Horseneck Falls (ca. 1889-1900), a glimpse by John Henry Twachtman (1853-1902) of a brook near his Connecticut farm, and Venus in Atrium (1908 or 1910) by William DeLeftwich Dodge (1867-1935), which depicts a sculpture of a nude female torso in his Long Island studio. (left: John Henry Twachtman (1853-1902), Horseneck Falls, ca. 1889-1900, oil on canvas, 30 x 25 inches, Bequest of Miss Adeliade Milton de Groot (1876-1967), 1967)

Some of the most famous American Impressionist depictions of domestic life were by Cassatt, who is appreciated most for her sensitive renderings of mothers and children. Spring: Margot Standing in a Garden (Fillette dan us jardin) (1900) is a highlight of the final section, "American Impressionists Paint Domestic Life." Also included is Chase's For the Little One (ca 1896), which portrays the artist's wife sewing in their summer house in the Shinnecock area of Southampton, Long Island.

Larkin observes: "Mary Cassatt's Spring: Margot Standing in a Garden is one of the most beloved paintings in the Mertopolitan's American Wing. Visitors gravitate to the canvas; many can be overheard declaring it their favorite." (left: Mary Cassatt, Spring: Margot Standing in a Garden (Fillette dans un jardin), 1900, oil on canvas, 26 3/4 x 22 3/4 inches, Bequest of Ruth Alms Barnard, 1982)

The American Impressionists belonged to several generations, led varied professional lives, and were among the most thoroughly schooled, widely traveled, cosmopolitan painters in the history of our nation's art. Their canvases are not only enchanting records of light and color, but decipherable reflections of their creator's experiences abroad and at home.
(right: William Merritt Chase (1849-1916), For the Little One, ca 1896, oil on canvas, 40 x 35 1/4 inches, Amelia B. Lazarus Fund, by exchange, 1917)


D. Scott Atkinson, Curator of American art, San Diego Museum of Art

As the San Diego Museum of Art's curator of American art, D, Scott Atkinson is coordinating the local presentation of American Impressionists Abroad and at Home: Paintings from the Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Since joining the Museum in July 1997, Atkinson has managed the Museum's collection of American art while curating several exhibitions. He most recently curated An American Pulse: The Lithographs of George Wesley Bellows (1999) and Picturing Paradise: San Diego in the Eye of the Artist, 1875-1940 (1999), for which he produced and co-authored accompanying catalogues.

For eleven years prior to that, Atkinson held the position of curator of collections and exhibitions at the Terra Foundation for the Arts (1985-1996). In this capacity, he programmed exhibitions for both museums operated by the foundation: the Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France and the Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois. Atkinson has contributed catalogue essays for numerous exhibitions including, William Merritt Chase: Summers at Shinnecock, 1891-1902 for the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (1987). He has also organized and produced catalogues for many other important exhibitions including Winslow Homer in Gloucester (1990). Most recently, he wrote a biographical essay about the American Impressionist, Theodore Robinson, for an exhibition held at the Owen Gallery in New York last spring.

Atkinson received both a Bachelor's degree (1978) and a Master's degree (1981), in art history from the University of California, Santa Barbara. He began his museum career in 1981 as assistant curator of collections documentation at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. Between 1984-1985 he was curator for the Queens Museum in New York.


The exhibition is organized by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Federation of Arts. The American Federation of Arts (AFA), a not-for-profit organization, develops and travels art exhibitions and provides educational, professional, and technical support programs developed in collaboration with the museum community. Established by an act of Congress in 1909, it is the oldest and most comprehensive organization of its kind, serving 550 museum members. Secretary of State Elihu Root outlined AFA's mission in an address to the National Academy of the Arts: to enrich the public's experience and understanding of art, primarily by taking original works "on tour to the hinterlands of the United States." Since its creation over 90 years ago, the AFA has organized over 1,000 exhibitions that have traveled to hundreds of art museums and galleries across North America. Today, the AFA continues to explore new opportunities to cultivate fertile ground for the broadest dissemination and appreciation of the visual arts.

AFA curators and registrars meet biannually with a standing committee of the AFA's board of trustees--comprising trustees, eminent art historians, and directors and chief curators of art museums--to present ideas for future exhibitions. This roundtable method ensures a diverse and far-reaching exhibition program that reflects the highest academic standards while supporting the AFA's founding mission and goals.

rev. 12/5/00

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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.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 4/27/11

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