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Landscape

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Landscape

Artist: John Henry Twachtman (American, 1853-1902)

Date: c.1882
Medium: Oil on canvas
Dimensions:
Overall: 35 × 46in. (88.9 × 116.8cm)
Framed: 42 1/4 × 53 1/2 × 2in. (107.3 × 135.9 × 5.1cm)
Credit Line: Museum Purchase
Object number: 58.9
Text Entries

Longfellow called it “The Queen City of the West,” and Baedeker described it as situated on the north bank of the Ohio River, “surrounded by an amphitheater of hills.” It was to one of these hilly areas, the suburb of Avondale, that John H. Twachtman and his wife returned when they arrived in Cincinnati early in 1882 after a honeymoon trip to Europe, primarily Holland and Belgium, to wait for the birth of their first child. It was here, or in the nearby countryside, that Twachtman painted Landscape, the largest and perhaps most ambitious of the things he did in and around Cincinnati, the town where he was born and raised.

The Utica picture is less directly inspired by Cincinnati, however, than it is by the influence of his training in Munich, where he was taken in 1875 by Frank Duveneck, and which was the first major step in the development of his professional career. Although Twachtman studied at the Royal Academy in Munich, the technique he adopted at that time was principally derived from the German painter Wilhelm Leibl and strongly exemplified by his friend Duveneck. The “Munich Style” is one of great dash and brio, and it was formed through the marriage of the styles of the seventeenth-century painter Frans Hals with the nineteenth-century realist Gustave Courbet. Based on direct observation, Leibl and Duveneck worked directly with a loaded brush, covering the canvas quickly with paint and boldly blocking in the large masses, working from dark to light. Henry James called it “the excitement of adventure and the certitude of repose,”(1) but Twachtman was not at all satisfied. He had not yet found his personal idiom. He had painted in a dark tonal manner since the mid-1870s, but caught a glimpse of something else in the Low Countries, so this stay in Cincinnati was also a period of marking time professionally, of trying to solve painting problems and having difficulty in doing so. “Yesterday I sent you my work,” he wrote to his friend J. Alden Weir, “which has little new in addition to what we did in Holland. . . . On some of these,” he added, “I worked but I feel that nearly all, at any rate half of them should have more work. . . .”(2) The critics appeared to agree with him; one reviewer wrote in the New York Times of February 6, 1882, that, “Twachtman seems to be just where he was two years ago.”(3)

Most of the paintings of this period are workmanlike and competent; many are relatively uninspired and all seem to reflect his “painter’s block.” Landscape, however, also reflects something of his independence--the search to find his personal point of view. It has something of Duveneck in it, to be sure, yet it also recalls Courbet and the Barbizon painters in choice of subject and manner of painting; and the greens and grays are additionally reminiscent of Bastien-Lepage, who had a strong influence on many American painters, and whom Twachtman met in Holland. In any case, the technical approach in the Utica picture does suggest an attempt to shed the skin of the Munich School Style. It seems more concerned with light, air, and mood, and despite a certain and not unattractive ambiguity, there is a strong interest in the organization and placement of forms in space. Most of all, however, the thinner, more freely flowing brushwork does seem to lean more in the direction of his studies in France the following year than in his past sojourn in the Bavarian capital. As such, and because of its significant size and stylistic quality, Landscape represents an important transition in Twachtman’s development and another serious step closer to that personal and modified impressionist style for which he ultimately became famous.

 

 Notes

1. Henry James, “Duveneck and Copley, 1875," in The Painter’s Eye: Notes and Essays on the Pictorial Arts by Henry James, ed. by John L. Sweeney (London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1956), p. 105.

2. Quoted from John Douglas Hale, “The Life and Creative Development of John H. Twachtman," (Ph.D. dissertation, Ohio State University, 1957), vol. 1, pp. 47-48.

3. “A Study of the Pictures: Second View of the Watercolor Exhibit,” the New York Times, February 6, 1882, p. 5.

 

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