By John Paul Stapleton
Springfield, Mass. – Impressionism was the dominant art style in late 19th century France, but America quickly followed with a movement all it’s own. Springfield Museums has recently acquired a traveling exhibit that displays a wide range of pieces from the art colonies that fueled that American Impressionism movement.
The exhibit was organized by the Reading Public Museum in Reading, Pennsylvania to be separated by the American colonies that range in location from Provincetown up into parts of Canada, all the way down to New Mexico.
This method of installation gives more of a historical background on the movement and the art colonies themselves. The 75 oil paintings and 30 works on paper are displayed with a wall text highlighting the artist and their particular relevance to their colony and their contemporaries.
John Henry Twachtman’s “The Coast Scene” painting comes from the Old Lyme artist colony in Connecticut and holds a significant influence from the New England Coast. In the impressionist style, light is very much an important part of portrayal and Twachtman was able to effectively capture the light that comes through on the grayest New England days in this harbor scene. The clouds glow in their wispy light grays but the ground is absent of very much light or vibrant colors. The ocean is almost black without a blue sky to reflect it and the boat carries on that somber monochromatic palette as it stands on poles on the beach no longer at sea.
William McGregor Paxton’s “Girl with Hand Mirror” is a piece from the Massachusetts artist colonies that takes a few turns along the way of fitting in with the American Impressionist movement. The loose brushstrokes that are commonplace within the style are replaced by very careful almost realistic depiction. The image resembles that of a classical portrait but Paxton incorporates light perfectly in his image to set the scene of early evening light hitting the subject through an out of frame window.
Directly adjacent to Paxton’s work is “Pot of Gold” by Arthur Prince Spear, which is a particularly interesting piece as it is a work of fantasy rather than a landscape or a portrait. Spear was known for his paintings of nymphs and the like, but that is not too common among works in the impressionist style. Despite that, the painting of a young girl on a cliff holding a pot projecting rainbows still uses many of the impressionist aesthetic standards. The loose brushstrokes give translucence to the rainbow as it shoots across the abstracted mountainous backdrop. The girl herself is flooded in the light coming from this magic source along with the cliff she is kneeling on.
Pieces like these show the range of images that were produced in this movement but also show the advantages that can be gained from incorporating it with other styles. The exhibit gives historical context to the paintings, the painters and the art colonies alike, but is also a rich history lesson on the budding art scene of America in general. All of the pieces have their place in the record of the movement but also show the individual innovations that were made throughout the period that may not have been built on later.
(“American Impressionism: The Lure of the Artists’ Colony” will be on view until October 25 at the Michele & Donald D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts at the Springfield Museums, 21 Edwards Street, Springfield, Mass., and costs an extra $5 special exhibit fee on top of the general admission fee for entrance. For more information, call (800) 625-7738.)