- Dates: November 13, 1946 through January 5, 1947
- Collections: American Art
July 26, 1946: No one man is responsible for the infiltration of Impressionism in American art at the beginning of the 1890’s, but one of the half-forgotten yet most influential pioneers of the movement was the Vermont born, Wisconsin raised painter, Theodore Robinson, whose landscapes and figure pieces will be assembled at the Brooklyn Museum for the artist’s first comprehensive show since his death fifty years ago. The exhibition will be on view from November 13, 1946 through January 5, 1947, and will coincide with the publication of the first monograph on the artist, written by the Brooklyn Museum’s Curator of Paintings, John I. H. Baur, and containing a general catalogue of Robinson’s work.
Born in 1852, the son of a Methodist-Episcopal minister in a small Wisconsin town, Robinson departed soon from Evansville--which he once wrote was “no Athens”--and from the meagre art training which the region then afforded. He was in the forefront of the American invasion of France, and in the late ‘70s and ‘80s he spent more than half his time there, feeling his way slowly towards the broken color and high key of Impressionism, which he embraced whole-heartedly only after the beginning of his friendship with Monet at Giverny in 1888.
It was a turbulent and unsure period in American art. The artist’s early canvases in the Museum’s exhibition will reflect many influences, principally the decorative style of LaFarge, for whom he worked in 1881, and, quite opposed to it, the realist genre of Homer and Eastman Johnson and many others--the “Kiss-Me-Mammy” school, as he once called it.
It was his essential devotion to the realist tradition that triumphed, however, in his conversion to the visual realism of Impressionism. At the same time, a strain of Puritanism, apparent both in his work and the diaries and letters quoted in the monograph, exercised a restraint on the sensuous quality of his art and, in his personal life, kept him from becoming an expatriate. It was this element of his character which drew him back eventually to dedicate his last years to painting the American countryside with a very conscious if often frustrating sense of devotion to his New England background.
During his lifetime, Robinson made a living by his art, but only by exercising the greatest frugality. On the whole, his paintings were well received. He often felt, himself, that they were “ragged” and “incomplete”, but there were few contemporary critics who objected to his brand of Impressionism, or who failed to sense the great sincerity and eloquent color of his best work.
Soon after his death in 1896, however, Impressionism as a whole suffered an eclipse of interest, and Robinson’s work, because of its modest and unassertive character has dropped out of sight to a greater degree than that of his confreres in the movement. While Robinson was not one of the great figures of American art, it is the belief that he was a genuinely creative painter of his period, too long neglected in the present, that has led the Museum to present to the public again his works and his life for re-evaluation by contemporary standards.
November 13, 1946: The first comprehensive exhibition of paintings, drawings and water colors by Theodore Robinson to be assembled since his death fifty years ago will open at the Brooklyn Museum on November 13, preceded by a preview for Museum members and guests on November 12. It will remain on view through January 5, 1947. An illustrated monograph on the artist by the Museum’s Curator of Paintings, John I. H. Baur, will be published at the same time.
Robinson, one of the now half-forgotten pioneers in the American Impressionist movement, was born in 1852 in Vermont, raised in Wisconsin and trained under various academic teachers in Chicago, New York and Paris. From 1880 to 1884 he was working in New York and Boston, doing chiefly decorative work for John LaFarge and Prentice Treadwell, although he also found time for easel painting, especially during the summer of 1882 which he spent on Nantucket.
In 1884 he returned to France where the major portion of his work was done for the next eight years. In 1887 he discovered Giverny, a village on the Seine which was then the home of Claude Monet. In the following year, doubtless under Monet’s influence, he began experimenting with the broken color technique of the French Impressionists, although he often modified it in terms of his essentially realistic training. His Impressionist canvases, exhibited in New York from 1889 on, were among the first of their kind by an American to be seen in this country.
From 1893 to his death in 1896, Robinson lived in New York, painting during the summers at Napanoch, N. Y., Greenwich and Cos Cob, Conn., Princeton and Brielle, N. J., and at Townshend, Vt. Weakened by asthma, which had afflicted him from childhood, he died suddenly in New York on April 2nd, 1896 at the age of forty-three.
The coming exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum will present about one hundred of his works in generally chronological order. The eighty oils start with student work done in France in 1877 and conclude with several canvases finished a few months before his death. The twenty-two water colors, pastels and drawings cover a slightly greater range, including works of his childhood and first years in New York. Of special interest in the study of his development are several sketchbooks, which were found in his studio at his death, and a collection of photographs taken by the artist and used, apparently to save the expense of models, in a number of his figure compositions.
Among the paintings in the exhibition will be many which have not been previously exhibited. The show will also include several canvases which were well known during the artist’s lifetime, such as In the Sun which won the first Shaw Fund award at the Society of American Artists in 1892, but which have not been seen publicly in recent years.
Mr. Baur’s monograph on Robinson is the result of several years of research on the painter and is based largely on new material including diaries and letters which have recently come to light. The ninety-four pages of text are supplemented by forty-seven illustrations and include a general catalogue listing and documenting nearly four hundred of the artist’s paintings, water colors, pastels and drawings.
The exhibition is the fourth in a series of shows which the Museum has devoted to little known American artists of the past whose accomplishments seem worthy of review in the light of modern critical standards. Previous exhibitions in this series were those of the work of Eastman Johnson, William Sidney Mount and John Quidor.
PRESS PREVIEW: Friday, November 8, from 10:00 a.m. to 4 p.m.