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Pots and Kettles on a Fire

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Pots and Kettles on a Fire

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

Date: c. 1878
Medium: Soft graphite on handmade, cream-colored, medium-weight antique laid paper
Overall: 11 × 15 3/4in. (27.9 × 40cm)
Markings: Watermark, lower right: "Gov . . . n"
Inscribed: Recto, lower left (graphite): "J. H. Twachtman"; Verso, Italian letter press printed in black ink, being half of a sheet of ledger paer for workmen's wages, titled, "...Ria Di Venezia." with entries in iron gall ink, and dated "1843."
Credit Line: Museum Purchase
Object number: 89.13
Text Entries

On a trip to Venice in 1877-78, Twachtman began to work outdoors and to create sketchily painted, dark-toned, asymmetrically composed views of Venetian waterways and back alleys. Although none of Twachtman’s drawings may specifically be identified with his initial sojourn in Venice, two pencil studies of Venetian architectural forms may have resulted from his stay in the city.(1) Both works were rendered on cream-colored ledger paper with Venetian water- marks. Twachtman executed the MWPI sheet on the same paper. While ledger paper was not an unusual choice for artists of the day, and Twachtman could have purchased it in a number of different places, it is likely that he acquired it in Venice, as the three drawings mentioned above are his only extant works rendered on this surface.(2) No aspects of the MWPI drawing suggest, however, that it was created in Venice itself, and it is possible that Twachtman carried the paper with him when he left Venice. Indeed, Pots and Kettles is the type of image Twachtman might have created during a stay in Polling, a town in the Bavarian mountains south of Munich that was a popular painting retreat for American art students in the 1870s.(3)

The subject of the MWPI drawing may have attracted Twachtman’s attention because of its varied shapes. Rather than laying out his drawing with outlines filled in with shading, he took a painterly approach, using soft graphite suggestively to create a sense of volume and texture. Employing line minimally, he focused the viewer’s attention on the overall arrangement rather than on individual objects. Following his usual practice, Twachtman did not create the MWPI drawing as a study for a painting. The drawing is a unique image, a record of his response to a subject experienced at a particular moment. Because Twachtman did not render drawings as part of his process of creating paintings, his graphite images are rare, constituting only twenty-seven of the 547 works thus far attributed to him.(4) Of his drawings, only one, a view of pots hanging above a hearth, relates in subject matter to Pots and Kettles.(5)

The MWPI drawing demonstrates the commitment to realism that was the foundation of all of Twachtman’s art, as well as his understanding that a sketch could have an immediacy and strength that a finished, detailed image often could not. Indeed, Twachtman’s confidence in the success of the work is evident in his prominent signature; many of his drawings are unsigned, and others are merely inscribed with his initials. His depiction of rustic crockery on a fire suggests his commitment to seeking esthetic value in commonplace subjects. He maintained this perspective in his best-known works, the Impressionist paintings he created in Greenwich, Connecticut, from 1889 to 1902.


1. The two drawings, Canal, Venice (pencil, 16 x 11 in.), and Venetian Scene (pencil, 7 3/4 x 11 1/8 in.) are in private collections. Twachtman’s visit to Venice in 1877-78 was his longest stay in the city. He briefly returned on his honeymoon in 1881 and was in Venice again in the fall of 1885. See Lisa N. Peters, “John H. Twachtman, A ‘Modern’ in Venice, 1877-1878,” in The Italian Presence in American Art: 1860-1920 (New York: Fordham University Press, 1992), 62-80.

2. Marjorie Shelley, conservator, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in a telephone conversation with author, October I993.

3. Katharine Metcalf Roof, The Life and Art of William Merritt Chase (New York: Charles Scribnerls Sons, 1917), 51. See also Nelson C. White, The Life and Art of J.  Frank Currier (Cambridge, Mass.: Riverside Press, 1936), 22. Twachtman’s presence in Polling is recorded once, in mid-May 1876, when he signed the guest register of the Streicher Inn. See the copy of the Streicher Inn guest book in the Spanierrnan Gallery archives, New York. Of course Twachtman may have visited Polling at other times without signing the register.

4. See Spanierman and Peters’s forthcoming catalogue raisonné of Twachtman’s works.

5. Four Kettles in a Hearth (pencil, 8 5/8 X 14 1/2 in.), private collection.


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