Ohio Impressionists and Post-Impressionists

by James M. Keny




In Columbus, artistic activity began quite eraly with the establishment of the Columbus Art School and the Columbus Art Association in the late 1870s. However, it was not until 1910 and the formation of the Columbus Art Students League (later the Columbus Art League) that the city gave birth to a strong and varied artistic community.


MAURICE HAGUE (1862-1943) was one of Columbus's prominent early landscape painters. A traditionalist whose work echoes the concerns of the plein-air Barbizon painters of rural France, he painted the Ohio countryside surrounding Columbus. Landscape with Wooden Fence and Stream (n.d.) is an informal Proto-Impressionist work with relatively loose brushwork.


ALBERT FAULEY (1856-1919), born in Fultonham, Ohio, near Zanesville, studied in Philadelphia, Chicago, and Paris and then became an important figure in Columbus's rapidly growing late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century art community. Fauley taught at the Columbus Art School for the first decade and a half of the twentieth century. His Resting (1900) displays an interest in the rural American landscape that parallels Hague's.

By the time Fauley executed Sicilian Salt Bark (1905) a profound change had taken place in his work. While summering in Gloucester, Massachusetts, he must have seen the work of another Ohio-born Impressionist, John Twachtman, for his Sicilian Salt Bark, with its diaphanous, silvery palette and gentle diffused light relates to the work of that artist. Lucy Stanberry Fauley, Albert's wife, was also a fine painter, who became well-known locally for her Cape Ann scenes. In many respects her paintings, influenced by the art of Childe Hassam, are technically superior to those of her husband. Lucy Fauley taught for many years at the private Columbus School for Girls.


JAMES ROY HOPKINS (1877-1969) was born on a farm in west central Ohio, near Mechanicsburg. He studied at the Columbus Art School in 1897. Disappointed, he went to the Cincinnati Fine Arts Academy, where he studied with Frank Duveneck. Hopkins became famous for his female figural works painted in Paris in the decade before World War I. Concurrently, his wife Edna earned international acclaim as a Post-Impressionist print maker. Hopkins exhibited at the Salon and won major awards both abroad and in this country. The war brought him back to the United States, where he accepted a teaching position with Frank Duveneck at the Cincinnati Fine Arts Academy and taught from 1914 to 1920. After a brief stop in Paris in the early 1920s, he returned to Columbus to head the Ohio State University's Fine Arts Department from 1923 to 1948. He was a respected teacher and an excellent administrator, who built the fledgling art division into a major department.

Hopkins's Bamboo Screen (ca.1912) shows the influence of his yearlong trip to the Orient in 1904­1905. The subdued palette, assymetrical design, and props are Japanese-inspired, though the sculptural delineation of the figure is more Western in nature.

In Golden Glow (ca.1910-1914) Hopkins shows his ability to model the human female figure and his extraordinary ability to render textures, in this case pearly skin and golden tresses of hair.

Hopkins also became known for a series of paintings executed between 1915 and 1919. These works in which he depicted Appalachian farmers, traveling preachers, and children living in the Kentucky mountains south of Cincinnati are departures from his decorative form of Impressionism. Some of the earliest examples of Regionalist painting in the twentieth century, these works anticipated those of Grant Wood, Thomas Hart Benton, and John Curry, who painted the impoverished rural folk of America's heartland.


THEODORE EARL BUTLER (1861-1936) was drawn to France to study and then to live. The son of a wealthy Columbus business owner, he studied at Marietta College, then with Albert Fauley in Columbus, then in New York, and eventually in Paris. While in Paris in 1888, Butler and Theodore Wendel, a fellow Ohioan and student from the Académie Julian, boarded a train for Normandy. They disembarked in Giverny and decided to stay and paint in the little village where Monet lived and maintained his studio and famous gardens. Butler became the cornerstone of the American and English art colony that thrived there before World War I until after the war. He married Monet's stepdaughter, Suzanne, in 1892, and after her death married her sister Marthe in 1900.

In Un Jardin Maison Baptiste (1895), an example of the French Impressionist painting that Butler learned at Monet's side, the artist used vibrating daubs of color to capture the hazy envelope of summer light found in the valley of the Seine. Throughout the 1890s and early 1900s Butler executed other plein-air Impressionist paintings such as School House under the Snow (1903), On the Seine (1902), and Night Reflections (1906). As early as the 1890s Butler experimented with decoratively patterned, abstracted interior scenes similar to those by Post-Impressionists such as Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard. Armistice Day, Times Square (1918) is one of his strongest Post-Impressionist works, reflecting his interest in pattern. It is a dazzling pageant of color and blazing iconlike forms. The buzzing matrix of complimentary dots of color animates the scene, capturing its electricity, while the boldly repeated blocks of blue, white, and yellow give it a formal power often associated with the works of the Nabis painters.


ALICE SCHILLE (1869-1955) began her training in Columbus, then studied in New York and Shinnecock, Long Island, with William Merritt Chase. She traveled to Europe in 1902, and after visiting Holland, Germany, and Spain, attended courses in Paris from 1903 to 1904. She returned to Columbus to teach at the Columbus Art School for over forty years from 1904 to 1948. For more than thirty summers she returned to France to visit and to paint. She also traveled to many other locales -- Gloucester, Santa Fe, North Africa, Guatemala -- for inspiration. Her French experience was particularly important to her work. While Chase's training is at the core of her lyrical design, decorative use of color, and her deep-seated eclecticism, such Post-Impressionist and Fauve painters as Cézanne, Seurat, Matisse, and Derain colored her modernist outlook.

Afternoon at the Beach, Gloucester (ca.1916-1918) exemplifies Schille's Neo-Impressionist watercolors. Extraordinarily fluent in the medium, she won numerous awards. It is interesting to note that this painting bears an affinity to early beach scenes of Schille's Cincinnati neighbor, Edward Potthast, although Schille's picture is more modern and expressive.

Schille was a very important spokesman for modernism in central Ohio, teaching its tenets to two generations of art students at the Columbus Art School. Ferdinand Howald, the great early modern collector from Columbus bought three of her watercolors from Daniel Gallery in New York in the late teens and may very well have been influenced by her aesthetic visions. Schille wrote a touching letter to Howald when he made a gift of his outstanding collection to the Columbus Gallery of Fine arts in the early 1930s.


RALPH FANNING (1889-1971), a Columbus resident and distinguished art and architecture historian at Ohio State University, and RAY KINSMAN-WATERS (1887­1962), a student of Alice Schille at the Columbus Art School, were influenced by Schille's Post-Impressionist works. Fanning's Barcelona (1936), and Kinsman-Waters's My Garden, Grandview (ca.1916) are superb examples by these regional artists.


GEORGE BELLOWS (1882-1925) was perhaps the most famous of all Ohio's historic painters and certainly the leading figure from Columbus. He received his early training at Ohio State University, where he excelled not only as an illustrator for the school's publication The Makio but also as a baseball and basketball player and a member of the men's chorus. Bellows terminated his studies there just before graduating, extinguishing his father's dream that he would become an architect. He went to New York for more extensive art training, and from 1904 to 1906 studied with Robert Henri. There could not have been a better match of teacher and student. Henri, the compelling Midwestern teacher, philosopher, and proponent of urban realism immediately found a convert in the inexperienced but bold and enthusiastic painter. Bellows, it turned out, could paint New York as experienced by the ordinary person, whereas Henri only dreamed it was possible. Bellows was inspired by Henri to follow the example of the seminal French painter and guiding independent spirit of the Impressionists, Edouard Manet.

Blue Snow, The Battery (1910) exemplifies Bellows's early, bold, gestural landscapes, which earned him major prizes and admission to the prestigious National Academy of Design before his thirtieth birthday. In this picture Bellows captured the crisp, cold blast of the wind rushing through the snow-covered park. Through this depiction of a blustery wintry day along the river in New York, he not only captured the feeling of the moment but he also created a metaphor for the vitality of the booming city he loved. The work embodies the Impressionist's interest in capturing the fleeting moments of an ordinary day and setting, but its vigorous paint application is especially informed by the paintings of Manet and Edgar Degas. Like Manet, Bellows delighted in broad application of paint. Both artists were particularly concerned with the overall effect of a scene rather than its details, and both focused on the impact of elemental forms and strong contrasts. Degas had a genius for creating a powerful design through the asymetrical placement of cropped, abbreviated forms within a shallow space. Bellows's work is an unpretentious but starkly effective symphony of repeated horizontal dashes of blue knit together and stabilized by a series of vertical gray punctuation marks. The black mass of the central shed anchors the composition.

Summer Night, Riverside Drive (1909), executed the year before Blue Snow, The Battery, is another tour de force by the young artist. Inspired by his walks with his wife Emma through New York's Central Park when they were courting, the artist captured the still opulence of a warm summer night. The rich, velvety brushstrokes remind one of Manet, while the almost abstract symphony of blues, greens, whites, and yellows recall the work of Whistler. The combination is pure Bellows.

Bellows also excelled in portraiture, producing insightful works throughout his career. Lucie (1915) is an example of one of his more successful portraits. Through sensitive modeling of the sitter's face, lucious application of creamy paint, elegant orchestration of seafoam greens and evocative pinks and lavenders he has captured the delicate charm of a young model he came to know one rainy summer in Ogunquit. It is revealing to compare this painting to early portraits by Frank Duveneck, which show a similar interest in an active surface, a well-modeled figure, and a searching analysis of character but are rendered in more somber hues. It is also intriguing to compare the portrait of Lucie with portraits by Bellows's teacher, Henri. The intensity and eloquence of Bellows's work is seldom matched.

The Stone Fence (1909) and Between Moon and Sun (1913) further reveal Bellows's uncanny ability to capture the precise feel of the moment, thereby imparting a timeless quality to his work. In The Stone Fence he preserved a quiet rural scene of a waning, sunny winter's day in Zion, New Jersey. The sparce design of criss-crossing blacks and repeated bands of color, the faithful observation of natural light values, and the artist's sensual delight in the varying textures of the scene are enough to command the viewer's attention and freeze the moment.


CARL SPRINGER (1874-1935) was also associated with Columbus. He resided there and frequently exhibited at the Columbus Art League's shows. He painted his characteristic snow scenes with a Bellows-like rugged vitality. Springer was influenced by the New Hope School of landscape painting in New Hope, Pennsylvania. Edward Redfield, a well-known painter of winter scenes, was the school's founder and a friend of Bellows and Henri. These artists practiced a form of painterly realism that was very popular in the teens, twenties, and thirties. Inspired by Henri and Bellows they forged a virile form of Impressionism with unassuming subject matter and broad, expressive stroke that was seen as a distinctly American celebration of the native landscape.


YETEVE SMITH (1888-1957) studied at Ohio State University. Her strong, unfussy works executed in the twenties and thirties reveal her aesthetic kinship with George Bellows. In Windblown (1936) she has preserved the feel of a crisp, windblown autumn day in a manner that recalls earlier Bellows works such as Blue Snow, The Battery. However, the work's more reductive handling and mannered paint application also tie it to the paintings of American modernists such as Marsden Hartley. Unlike Bellows, Smith remained in Columbus for most of her life, sharing her keen aesthetic sense through her regular contributions to the Columbus Art League, where she won several prizes in the late 1920s.


Cleveland and Northeastern Ohio

There was a very active art community in the booming industrial city of Cleveland as well. Although Cleveland matured later than Cincinnati and Columbus as an art center, coming into its own in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, by the 1920s a strong Cleveland school had emerged, one that employed the medium of watercolor for a decidedly more modern effect than that associated with the Duveneck-centered Cincinnati school.


DE SCOTT EVANS (1847-1898) was one of the first important painters to practice and teach in Cleveland. During the late 1870s he studied with the great academic painter Adolphe William Bouguereau in France, attaining a thorough command of traditional painting technique.

Botanizing (1891) is an example of an academic Impressionist work executed later in his life. In it Evans is careful to fully resolve the human figure with tight academic modeling. However, he reveals a sensitivity to the play of natural light across the forms of gentle women at leisure that echoes the interest of many American Impressionists of this period, among them Ohio painters Charles Courtney Curran, Robert Blum, and Evans's student Otto Bacher.


GEORGIA[NA] TIMKEN FRY (1864-1921) was associated with Ohio through her family's control of large manufacturing interests in Canton. Fry, after studying in St. Louis, her birthplace, also followed the path to Paris to study with such revered Salon painters as Harry Thompson, Armé Morot, August F. A. Schenk, and Jean-Charles Cazin. Shuttling between New York, Paris, and the Orient, Fry became respected for her Barbizon-inspired, bucolic landscapes enlivened with shepherds and livestock. A relatively obscure figure, she nonetheless produced some outstanding works. A Village, France (1888) is one. Its strong diagonal composition, relatively loose handling of paint, as well as the captured play of afternoon light across the figure and along the tree-lined road echoes the interests of Ohio Impressionists such as Theodore Wendel and Louis Ritter, albeit in a more restrained palette. Georgia Fry was also active as the vice president of the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors in New York from about 1910 through the teens. She was exhibiting her works regularly in New York at this time.


WILLIAM J. EDMONDSON (1868-1946), born in Norwalk, Ohio, was trained in Paris after studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia. He specialized in an academic form of Impressionism and often depicted the female figure in a decorative manner. A few years before Edmondson's explorations of this subject, Columbus area painter James Hopkins had pursued a related subject in Paris. Both artists shared a solid command of the human form and interest in its decorative representation against a colorful backdrop of mixed patterns. Like Hopkins, Edmondson exhibited in major annual shows throughout the country, garnering prizes for his work, but today he is largely unknown. The Blue Feather (1917) was executed at the peak of Edmondson's powers in the late teens. It was during this period in 1919 that the artist garnered a first prize for figure painting at the Cleveland Museum of Art.


FREDERICK GOTTWALD (1858-1951) was a central figure in the Cleveland art community at the turn of the century. An active member of the Cleveland Art Club and the leading instructor at the Cleveland School of Art from 1885 to 1926, he influenced and trained many important Cleveland artists such as Charles Burchfield, Henry Keller, Abel Warshawsky, and Frank Wilcox.

Gottwald traveled regularly to Italy, where he painted a series of Post-Impressionist works during the teens. His Mediterranean, Italy (ca.1910) and Piazza Apostino, Taormina, Italy (ca.1910) have the hushed quality of ancient friezes. The flattened tapestrylike space and decorative patterning recall in a more subdued way the work of another American Post-Impressionist enamored with Italy, Maurice Prendergast. These works also relate to the murals of Puvis de Chavannes in tonality. The paint application is rich and impastoed in a manner similar to Prendergast's. Early in his career, Gottwald exhibited his work nationally, but later he showed in the Cleveland area, primarily at the Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland School of Art, Cleveland Art Club, and Cleveland Society of Artists, as well as commercial galleries.


OTTO BACHER (1856-1909) studied in Cleveland, then at the Cincinnati Fine Arts Academy, where he met Frank Duveneck. He joined Duveneck in Munich in the late 1870s and traveled with him to Florence and Venice during the early 1880s. While in Venice, Bacher met Whistler, and they produced etchings together. Bacher became a close associate of the artist, visiting him throughout the late 1880s. In 1909, Bacher wrote a popular book about his experiences with the famous artist entitled With Whistler in Venice.

Although he was best known during his lifetime for his etchings, illustrations, and writing, Bacher was also an extraordinary painter. His early painting The Ellas Hotel, Richfield Center, Ohio (1885) is a dramatic work. With its daringly cropped and succinctly structured composition it anticipates some of the bold designs of Bellows's urban paintings, such as Blue Morning (1909, National Gallery of Art), but Bacher's tight draftsmanship of the figures and building is much more academic. Here he has created a hauntingly realistic envelope of light that evokes a sun-baked hotel porch from the time of horse-drawn carriages.

Portrait of Mrs.Otto Bacher (1891) is a part of a series of stunning figural works the artist executed in the early 1890s. The insightful expression, lifelike figure, and thorough command of texture -- from the sitter's fine hair to her soft skin tones to the hard wood of the chair to the wonderfully alive flowers -- link the work to the finest examples of academic Impressionism painted by Bacher's Munich associate and fellow Cleveland teacher, Joseph DeCamp.


MARY MINERVA WETMORE (1867-1940) was also a devotee of Impressionism. A student of William Merritt Chase, Wetmore spent a dozen years studying art, including two years at the Cleveland School of Art, six years at the Art Students League, and three years in Paris. Unfortunately, much of her work has not been located, but, if Mother and Child in a Garden (1911) is representative, she was a remarkably talented artist. In this work, Wetmore has embraced Impressionism more fully than her fellow Clevelanders, Bacher, Edmondson, or Evans. Mother and Child in a Garden is alive with animated daubs of warm color, and the figures dissolve more appreciably in the field of dancing light than do those of her peers. Wetmore exhibited regularly at major annual exhibitions in Cleveland, New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia. By 1907 she had left Cleveland to become a professor of art at the University of Illinois in Champaign for more than twenty years.


MAY AMES (1863-1946) is another accomplished artist from Cleveland whose work today is largely unknown. Unlike Mary Wetmore, she remained in her native Cleveland, where she was active as an instructor in the Cleveland School of Art from 1900 to 1927. Cornshocks, Brecksville (1913) is a wonderful plein-air painting, alive with shimmering light, floating clouds, and radiant corn shocks.


KARL ANDERSON (1874-1956) of Clyde, Ohio, an elder brother of the famous author Sherwood Anderson, was a distinguished Impressionist painter with ties to Cleveland. After a year at the Cleveland Art School, Anderson went to Chicago. He studied for four years at the Art Institute of Chicago, where he befriended another Midwestern artist who would become famous for his Impressionist paintings, Frederick Frieseke. Anderson continued his training in France from 1900 to 1901, but his return trip to France and the art colony of Giverny was the most important step in his development as an artist. There he stayed with Frieseke and produced some extraordinary examples of decorative Impressionism.

Idlers, August (1909) is a prize-winning Giverny work that reveals the extent of Anderson's skills. Awash in vibrant color, convincingly modeled, langorous figures virtually melt in warm, shimmering light. The luscious use of color and exuberant heavy application of paint recalls the work of Frieseke, but the meldingof the figure with the landscape is distinctively Anderson. An artist who was very interested in paint surface, he experimented with various modes of creating sparkling tapestries of color. Wisteria (National Academy of Design) is a less liquid, more dry and scumbled variant of these decorative paintings, which bring to mind the sculpted canvases of another Giverny painter, Richard Emil Miller. Anderson was a respected member of the art colony of Westport, Connecticut, from 1912 until his death in 1956.


ABEL G. WARSHAWSKY (1883-1962) traveled to France to study Impressionism. Unlike Wetmore and Anderson, he stayed there for an extended period from 1900 to 1938, traveling throughout France, often summering in Brittany. Washer Women at Goyen (1917) is a light-filled work that recalls the gestural application of pigment favored by the Munich school and seen throughout much of the Cincinnati school in various chromatic variants.


GEORGE GUSTAV ADOMEIT (1879-1967) was both a skilled Impressionist painter and one of the finest printers of exhibition catalogues in the country. Adomeit did not paint for a living. Nevertheless, he painted a significant body of work and exhibited it throughout the country. An annual contributor to the May Show at the Cleveland Museum of Art, he won over a dozen prizes there from 1923 to 1946. His canvas Cleveland Under Snow (n.d.) is a fine example of plein-air painting and an exuberant display of the type of brushwork popularized by Duveneck, Henri, and Bellows.


HENRY KELLER (1869-1949) was the pivotal figure in a group of modernists active in Cleveland during the teens, twenties, and thirties. As a teacher of composition and design at the Cleveland School of Art from 1902 to 1945 and the principal instructor at the Berlin Heights Summer School, he imparted his love of expressive watercolor to his associates and students, among them August Biehle, Charles Burchfield, William Sommer, and William Zorach.

Santa Maria della Salute, Venice (1902) is an early, relatively tight, watercolor. A beautifully resolved work with a crystalline clarity, it belies the inherent transcience of this liquid medium. Later, Keller's watercolors became looser and more abstract, with an expressive energy akin to that in works by the modernist master of watercolor, John Marin.


WILLIAM SOMMER (1867-1949) was well-known for his highly personal, early modernist watercolors with quasi-Cubist, fantastic imagery, as in Plants and Apples (ca.1929­1930, collection of Mr. and Mrs. Ernest R. Preston, Jr.). Sommer was equally skilled in the medium of oil. Lake Erie Cliff, Lakewood (1911), a Pointillist masterwork, was painted along the lake shore in one of Cleveland's western suburbs. Its arbitrarily colored sea of shimmering dots shows Sommer's interest in modernism, as it captures the warm light of a summer day at the shore.

In Ray in a Red Collar (1914) Sommer more fully embraced modernism. The mannered interpretation of the boy's psychological distress through the use of bold emotional color and distorted form recalls the work of the German Expressionists. Sommer's portrait is a world away from the Munich school that influenced Duveneck's Little Girl in Red Dress (ca.1890), although both artists were influenced by the Munich style of painting. Sommer was one of the first Ohio artists to fully absorb the tenets of modernism and interpret these within his own work. Alice Schille of Columbus was also deeply interested in modernism at this time, but she followed the path of the French Post-Impressionists and Fauves more than that of the psychologically demanding German Expressionists.


WILLIAM ZORACH (1880-1966), an innovative Cleveland watercolorist, studied in Cleveland, New York, and Paris. He forged a distinctive modern style that attracted the attention of the great modernist art dealer, Charles Daniel. Upon Zorach's return to France in 1912, he and his equally talented wife, Marguerite, from California, explored the modernist aesthetic in New York, and during summers in New Hampshire, and later at Robinhood Cove, Maine.

During the teens, before Zorach turned his attention to monumental, organic sculpture, he painted expressive watercolors such as The Fishermen (1916) and New Hampshire (1918). New Hampshire is reminiscent of the reductive, organic washes of Georgia O'Keeffe's evocative, semi-abstract watercolors of the teens. The Fishermen, with its elegant reductive design and expressive decorative color recalls the works of Henri Matisse, Maurice de Vlaminck, and André Derain-painters who also influenced the Columbus watercolorist Alice Schille. Ferdinand Howald, the great Columbus collector, bought this Zorach watercolor (as well as some by Schille) from the Daniel Gallery. Its crisp, organic elegance also calls to mind the watercolors of Charles Demuth, another Daniel Gallery artist.


AUGUST F. BIEHLE, JR. (1885-1979), a fellow student with William Zorach, explored modernism upon his return to Cleveland from study in Munich in 1911­1912, at the time of the German Expressionist Blaue Reiter exhibition in Munich. Biehle's animated, rhythmic gouaches such as Corn Shocks, Berlin Heights (ca.1920­1921) are indebted to German Expressionism but particularly to the art of Vincent van Gogh. Biehle was also influenced by the decorative design of Art Nouveau and the related Jugendstil movement, as evidenced in Path to the Beach, Lake Erie (1920), which reveals his sensitivity to decorative line and patterns.


CHARLES BURCHFIELD (1893-1967) is one of the best-known Ohio painters. Born in Ashtabula Harbor, he grew up in Salem, straying from home only as far as Buffalo, New York. He relied heavily on his native Ohio landscape to conjure a personal inventory of powerfully expressive motifs to communicate his extraordinarily close pantheistic bond with nature. Though his paintings reveal his sensitivity to French Impressionist and Fauve works in their use of expressive arbitrary color and reductive forms, his masterful watercolors are some of the most individual contributions to American art. Euclid Avenue (1916) and Eroded Sand Pits (1915) reveal his interest in decorative design and the emotive effect of arbitrary and expressive color.

Park Light on a Windy Night (1915) exemplifies Burchfield's haunting depictions of nature; here, wind, trees, and light seem to take on a life of their own. In these innovative works Burchfield captured the magic of nature in much the same way that a child experiences its power-with wariness and awe. The iconography of the harplike screen of trees moaning in the wind is all his own, but also evident in this work is the tradition of expressive watercolor and a respect for the German Expressionist aesthetic that was taught at the Cleveland School of Art. Burchfield's evocative paintings are owned by virtually every major museum in the country and have been the subject of scholarly exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, among other prominent institutions. His distinctive interpretation of the American landscape is as personal, powerful, and compelling as that of George Bellows and John Twachtman, but in a darker, more emotional, way.


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