American Impressionism
Impressionist Painting in the United States.

Pin it

By the River (1887)
Theodore Robinson.
Private Collection.

For details of movements
and styles, see: History of Art.
For a quick guide to specific
styles, see: Art Movements.

For a list of the Top 10 painters/
sculptors: Best Artists of All Time.
For the best oils/watercolours,
see: Greatest Paintings Ever.

Impressionism in America (c.1880-1900)
History, Critical Reaction, Exhibition Reviews


Impressionism in America
American Impressionist Painters
Pre-Civil War Art Scene
Post-Civil War Art Scene
Attitude of American Critics to Impressionism
Terminology: Luminarist, Synthetiste, Impressionist, Pointillist
Luminism, Impressionalism, Violettomania
Critical Reviews of Manet
Critical Review of Degas
John Singer Sargent
The 1883 Impressionist Exhibition (Boston)
The 1886 Impressionist Exhibition (New York)
Reviews of the Impressionist Exhibitions
Attitude of American Art Dealers
Claude Monet: Best Known Impressionist
Paul Durand-Ruel's Marketing Efforts
Impressionism Gains Popularity (1891-93)
Impressionism After 1893
American Impressionist Paintings (c.1880-1925)

Italo-American Celebration,
Washington Square (1912)
William James Glackens
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.


The original French exponents of Impressionism were essentially a group of friends and associates, whose differing styles of painting to a greater or lesser extent shared a common spontaneity and an interest in capturing light. They built on the naturalism of Barbizon and the realism of Courbet and others, to produce a seemingly casual style of plein-air painting characterized by loose brushwork, impastoed paint and non-naturalistic as well as naturalistic colours. To fully discern their content, most of their paintings needed to be viewed at a distance, rather than close-up. When compared to the rules of academic painting, as taught in academies in America as well as Europe, Impressionist paintings appeared quite shocking. They were seen as sloppy, unfinished, and amateurish: a view shared by the French public and critics alike. As a result, Impressionist Exhibitions in Paris proved seriously underwhelming.

For how things started, see: Impressionism: Origins and Influences. For details about the painters, see: Impressionism: Early History.

Impressionism in America

When American artists first became aware of French Impressionism, the dominant style in landscape painting in the USA was the Barbizon School of naturalism, as exemplified by George Innes (1825-94), who himself was very close to Impressionism without admitting it. Other artists whose focus was also on the capture of light, included Tonalist painters such as the famous expatriate James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), as well as Henry Ward Ranger, J Francis Murphy (1853-1921), Dwight Tryon (1849-1925) and Thomas Wilmer Dewing (1851-1938). The strength of the Barbizon and Tonalist traditions in American art made it more difficult for Impressionism to take root.

In addition, American "Impressionists" tended to have more of an academic background than their French counterparts. As a result, they had a greater regard for the conventions of academic art and, even when they overcame their artistic scruples, they rarely surrendered entirely to the spontaneous Impressionist idiom, and typically continued producing realist-style portrait art, as well as Barbizon-style landscapes. Few, if any, became full-blooded devotees of Impressionist art. Even so, during the late-1880s and 1890s many American artists explored Impressionism - sometimes by studying in Paris, or working in artist colonies in Normandy and Brittany, or through direct contact with French Impressionists - and some made it a major part of their artistic repertoire.

Another problem when analyzing the history and development of Impressionism in America, is the question of "definition." Several American painters produced "Impressionistic" canvases, but opinions remain divided about whether they should properly be called "Impressionistic", or "Impressionist", or "Tonalist", or even "Luminist". We think, for instance, that the loose brushwork and careful handling of light in Singer Sargent's Venetian street scenes make them Impressionist, but other critics disagree.

American Impressionist Painters (c.1880-1925)

The best-known Impressionist painters in America included: William Merritt Chase (1849-1916), Theodore Robinson (1852-96), Mary Cassatt (1844-1926), John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), Childe Hassam (1859-1935), John H Twachtman (1853-1902), J. Alden Weir (1852-1919), Willard Metcalf (1858-1925), Joseph Rodefer De Camp (1858-1923), Maurice Prendergast (1858-1924), William McGregor Paxton (1869-1941), Edmund Charles Tarbell (1862-1938), and Frank W Benson (1862-1951). In addition, Robert Henri (1865-1929) and William James Glackens (1870-1938), both members of The Eight, produced a number of excellent Impressionist-style canvases. Other notable American Impressionists were John Appleton Brown (1844-1902), Soren Emil Carlsen (1853-1932), John Joseph Enneking (1841-1917), Mark Fisher (1841-1923), Daniel Garber (1880-1958), Ernest Lawson (1873-1939), Joseph Raphael (1872-1950), Robert Spencer (1879-1931), Theodore Clement Steele (1847-1926), Abbott Handerson Thayer (1849-1921), Allen Tucker (1866-1939) and Robert Vonnoh (1858-1933), along with Theodore Butler, Edmund Greacen, Walter Griffin and William Horton.

See also: Important American Impressionist paintings.



Pre-Civil War Art Scene

Any discussion of the introduction of Impressionism into America must take into account the roles played during the crucial years of the 1880s and early 1890s by the dealers and commercial galleries and also by the contemporary periodicals. Both these factors of American artistic life, particularly strong, then as now, in New York City, had been on the rise during the post-Civil War decades. Before those years of conflict, dealers were few and of limited significance; artists tended to sell from their studios or from public exhibition, or painted works on commission. Commercial outlets were few, outside of occasional exhibition in frame shops, bookstores and the like, and what few true commercial galleries were established functioned primarily to merchandise European art. Only a few magazines devoted solely to the world of art existed, and with the exception of the pioneering publication, The Crayon, of 1855-60, those magazines were literary organs of art organizations, functioning as promotional mouthpieces and succumbing with the associations themselves.

Post-Civil War Art Scene

The situation changed dramatically in the years after the Civil War. Dealers continued to promote works by European artists but gradually took on American art, particularly those works that reflected developments in European modern art, whether academic or more avant-garde art; some of these galleries are still in operation today. Specialized art magazines began to appear in ever-increasing numbers, themselves reflecting certain aesthetics either as policy or as personal editorial attitudes. Art Interchange, The Collector, and the Art Amateur, were influential critical organs of the period, while Modern Art appeared in 1893, created as a result of new artistic developments and reflecting the most advanced aesthetic taste. In addition, the general periodical press continued to devote large selections of their monthly magazines to developments in the arts, and were thorough and persuasive, such magazines as Atlantic Monthly, Scribner's Monthly (later The Century Monthly Magazine, hereinafter Century) and Scribner's Magazine especially.

Attitude of American Critics to Impressionism

Among the art critics and writers specially concerned with considering the characteristics of Impressionist painting, were William C. Brownell and Clarence Cook in Scribner's Monthly, Alfred Trumble in The Collector, Russell Sturgis in the Art Interchange, and Theodore Child, Roger Riordan and Montague Marks, in the Art Amateur. It should be emphasized, however, that the above-named writers were not the only ones whose opinions could be found in those magazines, and conversely, the writings of those critics also appeared in many other magazines and newspapers.

It would appear that American critics, in their concern with contemporary art and their evaluation of the work of American painters, were aware of Impressionism quite early, but that appearance, is, in fact, somewhat deceptive. The terms "Impressionism" and "Impressionist" appear relatively early in the critical writing of the period. Henry James, in The Nation for May 31, 1877, reviewing a show at the Grosvenor Gallery in London, commented on some paintings of Whistler's that they were not pictures but nocturnes, arrangements and harmonies; he found them uninteresting but labelled the artist an "Impressionist." A writer in The Critic for July 30, 1881 wrote some "Notes on a Young Impressionist," concerning the art of J. Frank Currier, and the National Academy Notes for 1883 noted a Marine by John Twachtman and A Sail in Grey by William Gedney Bunce as "examples of the Impressionist school."

It is evident that these critics did not mean in their use of the term the aesthetic of prismatic colour, broken brushwork and primary concern with light and colour which we associate with Impressionism. Twachtman might be considered a true Impressionist only later in his career, and a grey marine by Bunce would be precisely the kind of picture which would not exhibit his usual preference for bright sunlight. This use of the term "Impressionist" is probably best understood by the reference to Currier; the writer "F. W." was actually speaking of a combination of non-traditional and non-ideal subject matter, and especially Currier's concern with and belief in brushwork: vivid, spontaneous, and "unfinished" application of the medium. Loose, vivid brushwork is certainly a characteristic of Impressionism, but it is only one aspect of that aesthetic. The critic, in fact, was responding to a major tenet of progressive Munich painting, of which Currier was a major practitioner and one of the artists most loyal to that style. It was also a characteristic of much of the painting shown in New York at the newly formed Society of American Artists, distinguishing the painting there from the more conservative work seen at the older National Academy of Design.

Terminology: Luminarist, Synthetiste, Impressionist, Pointillist

Terminology, therefore, is an important factor in our understanding of the critical reaction to and against Impressionism. If "Impressionism" was host to a variety of interpretations early in its appearance in America and to American critics and artists, other terms were also introduced to mean what has come to be accepted as Impressionism. Another term that enjoyed at least sporadic use was "luminarist." Cecilia Waern, in an important article in the Atlantic Monthly for April, 1892, attempted to define Impressionism as an art concerned with unity, citing the work of Jean-Charles Cazin, Jean Francois Raffaelli and Whistler. This she perceptively divided into two factions: the "synthetistes" who emphasized form, and the "luminaristes" who emphasized light. And the latter, in turn, she subdivided into two groups, acknowledging the scientific faction of "pointillists." The term was used again much later, by the influential critic and landscapist Birge Harrison in his important book, Landscape Painting, published in 1909. Harrison insisted there, as he did in his article "The True Impressionism in Art," which appeared in Scribner's Magazine in October of the same year, that all artists were Impressionists. He proposed the term "luminarists" for those painters concerned with light and colour, and spoke of the "pulsating, vibrating effects" of this art. " Vibration" in fact was the key word in much of the critical terminology concerning Impressionism in America.

Luminism, Impressionalism, Violettomania

A related term was introduced by the Tonalist artist, Henry Ward Ranger, in his 1914 Art-Talks when he spoke of the "Luminist movement" which had captured the world, using that term not in the present reference to the earlier art of Martin Heade, Sanford Gifford and other mid-19th century landscape painters, but referring rather to what is now known as Impressionism. (See also: Luminism.) The important Midwestern painter, Theodore Steele, used the alternate term, "Impressionalism" in a significant article that appeared in the magazine Modern Art, which was first published in his native city of Indianapolis in 1893. A hostile critic in the Minneapolis Evening Tribune of August 8, 1896, referred to the "Heliotropists," artists with a supreme contempt for story-telling pictures, "whose cameras run riot in purples lurid, intense, misty, reddish or greeny yellowy as suits the mood..." The emphasis upon the purple end of the spectrum seems to have been what bothered most critics. In 1892, "W.H.W." stated in the Art Amateur that he had consulted an oculist and asked if there were any such malady as "purple eye."

Oscar Reutersvard in 1951 in the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism devoted an article to "Violettomania" - the emphasis upon the blue, indigo and violet end of the spectrum in Impressionist painting.

See also: Impressionist Painting Developments.

Critical Reviews of Manet

The earliest American critical comment on Impressionism as we know it today, occurred about 1880, and was generally hostile. The American Art Review published, in 1880, an article entitled "Impressionism in France," but it ostensibly withheld comment or judgement, only quoting in translation two European critiques, one severely hostile and one mildly so, taken from L'Artiste and from the Revue Suisse respectively. Lucy Hooper, the American correspondent for The Art Journal, wrote that year in "Art Notes from Paris" about the Impressionist exhibition there, and also of an exhibit of Manet's works, finding Manet less mad than the "other maniacs of Impressionism," the latter finding it easier to dash off an unnatural daub, defying all the rules of perspective and colouring. More reflective was Samuel Benjamin in his Art in America of the same year who criticized a lack of spirituality and ideality rather than condemning Impressionist technique, a frequent American criticism. He wrote that these painters "undoubtedly present a keen appreciation of aerial chromatic effects and for this reason are worthy of careful attention. That they are not carried nearer to completion, however, indicates a consciousness on the part of the artist that he is as yet unable to harmonize the objective and the subjective, the material and the spiritual phases of art." Benjamin found that "Impressionism, pure and simple, as represented by its most extreme supporters, is like trying to represent the soul without the body." Alfred Trumble, writing in The Collector in 1893, emphasized that artists such as Monet were materialistic, and that their works lacked the emotional feeling which so touched the observer in oil paintings like The Stonebreakers (1849, Gemaldegalerie, Dresen) by Gustave Courbet (1819-77). Unlike other critics, Trumble condemned the Americans Twachtman and Weir for painting like Monet yet without the originality and power inherent in the French work.

For America, as suggested by Lucy Hooper, Edouard Manet (1832-83) represented the first of the Impressionists. His Shooting of Maximilian (1868, Kunsthalle, Baden-Baden) was one of the first Impressionist, or quasi-Impressionist, pictures publicly exhibited in this country, brought here by Mrs Ambre of Colonel Mapleson's Italian Opera Company in November of 1879, and shown at New York's Clarendon Hotel and at the Studio Building gallery in Boston. It was a publicity venture, capitalizing on the notoriety of the work which was due, however, to its inflammatory political nature rather than to its radical aesthetic. New York critics found the picture powerful and original, admiring the splashes of paint which make it appear a huge "ebauche"; their sympathy is surprising particularly when contrasted with the reaction in Boston, where the work was condemned for its slack execution. The American painter in Paris, Henry Bacon, wrote in 1880 that Manet represented nature out of tune.

See also: Impressionist Edouard Manet.

Critical Review of Degas

Twelve months before Manet's picture appeared in New York, A Ballet by Edgar Degas (1834-1917) was exhibited there, at the American Watercolour Society. This may well have been the earliest French Impressionist painting acquired by an American; it was purchased by Louisine Elder, later Mrs. Horace Havemeyer, in 1875 with the advice of Mary Cassatt (1844-1926). It seems that this exhibition was the earliest public showing of a truly Impressionist picture on this side of the Atlantic. Even more remarkable is the attention and the sympathetic criticism which the work received. The critic in The Century wrote in April, 1878, that the picture "gave us an opportunity of seeing the work of one of the strongest members of the French 'Impressionist' school, so called; though light, and in parts vague, in touch, this is the assured work of a man who can, if he wishes, draw with the sharpness and firmness of Holbein." It is perhaps not surprising that Degas, with his classical heritage and concern for drawing and for form, in a work concerned with artistry and with controlled light, might fare relatively better than some of his Impressionist colleagues, but the work was still a radical picture in its breadth, composition and colour, and might not have fared as well under the pen of a French critic of the time.

The Century of course, spurred on by its editor, Richard Watson Gilder, had been in the vanguard of promoting foreign influences on American art and spearheading the newly formed Society of American Artists, but even most of the members of that group were not particularly sympathetic to Impressionist painters at the time. Interestingly too, Degas' picture is a mixture of gouache and pastel and suggests already the role that the revival of pastel drawing would have in the transmission and popularization of Impressionist aesthetics during the following decade.


John Singer Sargent

The extremely perceptive writer on art, Mariana van Rensselaer, wrote in 1884 that Manet and Degas "had much charm for those who can consent to see for a moment with the eyes of a peculiarly endowed painter instead of their own." Such tolerance contrasts with the comment by a writer in The Critic two years earlier that "if Mr. John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) has joined the ranks of the French Impressionists it is their gain and his loss." In fact, Sargent produced a number of stunning Impressionist paintings, ranging from his magnificent portrait of The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit (1882, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), to his Spanish gypsy dance El Jaleo (1882, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston) as well as his dark Venetian street scenes, like A Street in Venice (1882, Clark Art Institute) and several wonderful landscapes, such as Alpine Pool (1909, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC).

The 1883 Impressionist Exhibition (Boston)

Slowly, during the 1880s, works by Impressionist painters were coming to America, both for exhibition and following their purchase by progressive art collectors. With the advice of J. Alden Weir, Erwin Davis had pioneered such acquisitions, obtaining Manet's Boy with a Sword and Woman with a Parrot in 1881, early dark and dramatic figure pieces however, which foretold little of Impressionist tendencies. But in Sept 1883, the Foreign Exhibition sent to Boston by the Paris dealer and friend of the Impressionists, Paul Durand-Ruel (1831-1922), and shown in the Mechanics Building, offered the first large-scale showcase of Impressionist works, including paintings by Manet, as well as Claude Monet (1840-1926), Renoir (1841-1919), Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) and Alfred Sisley (1839-1899). At the end of that year, New York City saw the Pedestal Fund Exhibition at the National Academy of Design arranged by William Merritt Chase (1849-1916) and J. Carroll Beckwith to raise funds for the pedestal, designed by Richard Morris Hunt, for the Statue of Liberty. The exhibition featured a great deal of Barbizon School landscape painting, but again included work by Manet.

The pivotal appearance of Impressionist painting in America was the huge exhibition sent to this country by Durand-Ruel in 1886. From this time on American artistic and critical attention focused upon this movement, and collectors and artists alike became overwhelmingly concerned with Impressionism. The years from 1886 to the triumph of Impressionism at the Chicago Fair in 1893 witnessed a year-by-year growth of understanding of and sympathy for the movement, though American reaction in any case was surprisingly mild and less hostile than the corresponding earlier French reaction. See also: Impressionists Renoir, Sisley, Pissarro, Degas, Cezanne.

The 1886 Impressionist Exhibition (New York)

The 1886 show came about as a result of Durand-Ruel's financial difficulties in Paris, and his acceptance of an invitation to exhibit from the American Art Association in New York. That organization had been founded by James F. Sutton, together with Thomas Kirby, the auctioneer at the major auction house of George A. Levitt. About 300 works were sent by Durand-Ruel. As well as works by Manet, Monet, Sisley, Renoir and Pissarro, it also included pictures by Gustave Caillebotte (1848-94), Berthe Morisot (1841-95), Edgar Degas (1834-1917), Georges Seurat (1859-91), and others. The display included 17 by Manet, 23 by Degas, 38 Renoirs, 48 Monets, 42 Pissarros, 15 Sisleys and 3 by Seurat, including his Bathers at Asnieres (1884, National Gallery, London) and a study for Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884-6, Art Institute Of Chicago).

The exhibition attracted such interest that it was continued at the National Academy with 21 additions from American collections, including those of Alexander Cassatt, H. O. Havemeyer and Erwin Davis. About fifty of the pictures were sold, to such buyers as Desmond Fitzgerald, Cyrus J. Lawrence, William H. Fuller, and James S. Inglis (who was president of the New York branch of the art establishment Cottier & Company) and to Albert Spencer, who sold earlier work to purchase paintings by Monet.

Reviews of the Impressionist Exhibitions

Critical reaction ran the gamut but was surprisingly favorable. The critic for The Art Interchange denounced the paintings for their ugliness, and the artists' depiction of "even the most cheerful and frivolous themes in the most dyspeptic and suicidal manner that is conceivable." The Art Amateur complained about Monet's harsh juxtaposition of unrelated tones, and both critics objected to works that could be properly viewed only at a great distance. But most of the critics, such as that of Art Age, admired Renoir's Bougival figure painting which depicted life as it is instead of as it ought to be, and referred to the landscapes shown as a new world of art. Luther Hamilton in Cosmopolitan noted the show as "one of the most important artistic events that ever took place in this country." Even more fascinated was the writer in The Critic who found either strange and unholy splendour or depraved materialism, and who defined accurately many of the aesthetic qualities of the art. He noted that the painters emphasized larger rather than lesser truths and believed that they neglected established rules only because they had outgrown them. He saw that the artists had eliminated tone and value gradations because of their love of pure colour, and recognized that suggestiveness characterized their work. He saw that Monet was the leader of the school, and called his pictures "some of the most delicious landscapes ever painted." Curiously, he saw the feminine principle of Impressionism embodied in the landscapes, and the masculine principle in the figure paintings. And he concluded that New York had never seen a more interesting exhibition than this. Clarence Cook in The Studio found the show delightful, emphasizing the blue, lilac and violet tones in the works, and the lack of work of the "black band." He recognized too that it was not a typical exhibition of the picture dealers or for the usual "money bag clients."

Attitude of American Art Dealers

The dealers, however, were hostile, probably to the art and certainly to the profits that Durand-Ruel was seen to be reaping. The exhibition had been allowed into this country tax-free, and the dealer had only to pay the high import tax on the works sold. Complaints by the local commercial art establishment against the American Art Association led to a prohibition of sales when Durand-Ruel sent a second exhibition in May of 1887. This exhibition was actually more conservative than the previous one; the only "first" was the inclusion of work by Puvis de Chavannes (1824-98). During the ensuing years, however, French Impressionist works were attracting more and more critical attention and patronage, and were shown in this country increasingly. In the spring of 1888, Albert Spencer of New York sold his Barbizon collection in order to purchase Impressionist works, Chicago saw an exhibition in 1890 of pictures lent by Durand-Ruel, inspired by Sara Halowell, who was a close friend of the leading collector in that city, Mrs Potter Palmer; they were to work together in 1893 in the organization of the Columbian Exposition. The 1890 show included six works by Monet, four by Pissarro and a Degas.

Claude Monet: Best Known Impressionist

Monet was to become the best known of the French Impressionists in this country. New York's Union League Club held a show of his work in 1891, organized by William H. Fuller, with works lent by Davis, Spencer and others. The following year there was a Monet show at Boston's St. Botolph Club, and in 1895 Durand-Ruel organized a Monet show in New York City which was then sent to Chicago. In 1896, the American Art Association presented an exhibition of 14 of Monet's paintings of Rouen Cathedral, works about which the public would already have read, providing an opportunity of realizing the serial concept of changing conditions of light, weather and atmosphere. The literature on Monet also began to appear in the 1890s, beginning with the article by Theodore Robinson in The Century in 1892, and a notice in Scribner's Magazine in 1896 and in Modern Art the following year.

See also: Impressionist Claude Monet.

Paul Durand-Ruel's Marketing Efforts

Durand-Ruel's own activities in America certainly encouraged increased interest in Impressionism. Two sales of works in his collection were held at Moore's auction galleries in New York City in 1887; the first, in May, was a significant one of 127 pictures. In the catalogue, Durand-Ruel suggested that the works of these often bold and startling artists would soon reach the value of the Barbizon painters Jean Francois Millet and Camille Corot whom he had promoted earlier. However, the works by Renoir, Pissarro, Boudin, Sisley, Monet and others went for meagre amounts and only a picture by Manet brought over $1,000. The December auction was a minor affair of lesser works and watercolours.

The inconveniences of selling through other galleries and auction houses and the difficulties imposed by the increasingly vexatious American tariff laws led Durand-Ruel to open his own gallery in New York City in 1888 at 297 Fifth Avenue; in 1890 the gallery was moved to 315 Fifth Avenue, and then in 1894 to 389 Fifth Avenue, a building owned by H. O. Havemeyer. From this base of operation, Durand-Ruel and his sons were able to mount frequent exhibitions of both French and American Impressionist painting and also to send out Impressionist shows to other cities. In 1890, Durand-Ruel opened a Sisley, Pissarro and Monet show, which then travelled to Boston. 1891 saw exhibitions for Monet and to a group showing of Degas, Renoir, Sisley and Johan-Barthold Jongkind (1819-91). In 1893, Durand-Ruel lent a group of works to the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and in 1894 he held a show of Degas pastels. In 1895, in addition to arranging for the Monet show in Chicago, Durand-Ruel held shows in New York of Mary Cassatt, Theodore Robinson and Robert Vonnoh. In 1896 there were exhibitions devoted to Jongkind and to Pissarro, and in 1897, a show of Pissarro's Vues de Rouen. Despite a gallery fire early in 1898, that year saw exhibitions devoted to Eugene Boudin (1824-98), Cassatt and Sisley.


Impressionism Gains Popularity (1891-93)

Gradually, the American press, too, was becoming aware of native converts to the methods and aesthetics of French Impressionism. The Art Amateur commented in 1887 that:

Quite an American colony has gathered, I am told, at Giverny, seventy miles from Paris on the Seine, the home of Claude Monet, including our Louis Ritter, W. L. Metcalf, Theodore Wendel, John Breck and Theodore Robinson of New York. A few pictures just received from these men show that they have got the blue-green colour of Monet's impressionism and "got it bad."

In the years 1891 to 1893 one can follow step by step the gradual conversion of the critical establishment from a hostile to a favourable opinion of Impressionism. In the earlier year, Alfred Trumble in The Collector could still write that "my contempt for such a man as Monet is the greater, because I believe he really can see and feel nature honestly, and that he distorts her for sensational effect." Charles H. Moore in the Century magazine in December, 1891, echoing earlier criticism by the great exponent of Tonalism George Inness (1825-1894), commented that Impressionism fails by concentrating only on colour, like the Pre-Raphaelites did on detail. And the respected art critic and historian William Howe Downes wrote an important article on "Impressionism in Painting" which appeared in the New England Magazine in July, 1892, condemning the crude and childlike work, the painty textures and the eccentricity of such artists as Manet with his purple tints. Downes noted, too, that some Americans had subscribed to the "purple mania and even overdo it." On the other hand, a writer in Scribner's Magazine in May suggested that one might "call the present time an epoch of Impressionism," while Theodore de Wysewa, in The Chautauquan, admired the clear tones, the lightness, transparency and easy elegance of the work of Berthe Morisot, concluding that the "Impressionist method is especially adapted to true feminine painting." The Art Amateur for May of 1891, in "The Wave of Impressionism," was skeptical of the Impressionist method but decided that "it may safely be left for the future to decide."

It did not wait for long. One of the most interesting critical controversies appeared in that magazine in November and December of 1892. In November, a writer identified only as "W.H.W." raged violently against Impressionism, quoting French critics and pointing the finger of cupidity at the art dealers as being the contemporary patrons. "W.H.W." appeared again the next month in a continuation of "What is Impressionism?" denigrating the uniformity of approach adopted by the Impressionist painters and speaking of the works of Monet, Pissarro and Sisley forced down the throats of the amiable American public. However, the magazine followed this with a rebuttal by "R.R." - surely Roger Riordan - who allowed for diversity in art, tracing the history of the movement back to JMW Turner (1775-1851) and Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863) and finding much to admire both in the French paintings and in those by Weir and Twachtman. Riordan concluded: "We are not called upon to reject the masters of academic drawing like Lefebvre because we find something to admire in the unacademic drawings of Degas or Renoir. To come nearer home, we can enjoy at the same time the grace and refinement of Mr. Henry O. Walker's work and the sparkle and animation of Mr Theodore Robinson."

1892 also saw Robinson's own tribute to Monet appearing in Century, and Cecilia Waern's fine analytical piece, "Some Notes on French Impressionism" in the Atlantic Monthly. A long, thoughtful and unbiased account of the French Impressionist movement and the work of the leading painters connected with it - Manet, Monet and Degas - was presented in The Art Interchange in July, 1892, incorporating the writings and deductions of many of the leading French critics: Paul Mantz, Maurice Hamel, Gustave Geffroy, Andre Michel, Henry Houssaye and Theodore Duret.

Even in 1893, some critics persevered in their disdain for Impressionism, but they were fewer. Trumble's aforementioned "Impressionism and Impressions," complained of its materialistic nature in reference to the exhibition at the American Art Association. A much more favourable stance toward the show was taken in June by The Art Amateur.

1893 was the year of the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and the ascendancy of the movement. It was sanctified by the new periodical appearing in Indianapolis, Modern Art, where the critic wrote: Although the great Impressionists are but meagrely represented, there is no lack of Impressionism. In fact, one sees it on every hand in the French, American and Scandinavian collections. Among these nations one feels it on every side. It is in the air, and the great bulk of the pictures show its influence in varying degree. Whether for good or bad, for long or short, it is the active influence in the art of to-day. So far, it has resulted in an added brilliance of light and colour that is refreshing, and makes a gallery a pleasant contrast to the heavy murkiness of a few years ago, which may even still be seen in some of the art palace exhibitions.

The first issue of Modern Art also contained Theodore Steele's adulatory article on "Impressionalism," and two years later the aforementioned article by Otto Stark on "The Evolution of Impressionism" appeared there.

The major literary spokesman for Impressionism also appeared at this time, Hamlin Garland, who, in his Crumbling Idols of 1894, wrote of the triumph of Impressionism at Chicago, of the dazzling sunlight, unified impressions, the concept of the momentary and the rich, raw colours where five years earlier there was hardly a blue shadow. Garland was to continue to act as the spokesman for progressive, Impressionist art particularly in his role as one of the "Critical Triumvirate," published, non-fictional discourses among a Novelist (Garland), a Sculptor (Lorado Taft) and a Conservative Painter (Charles Browne). Several discussions of the "Critical Triumvirate" were published, but the divergence of opinion between the progressive Novelist and the Conservative Painter should be mentioned here. Garland, the Novelist, in reviewing a show of American art at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1894, admired Impressionist work; Browne, the Conservative, wanted more than technical virtuosity.

Even some artists at the Columbian Exposition were dismayed by the Impressionist work and influences. The elderly sporting and animal painter, Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait, complained that the pictures "...aint got no outlines." And when the daughter of the Hudson River School landscape painter James Hart was asked if she were an Impressionist, she answered, "No, I'd like to be, but papa won't allow me!"

For an analysis of 19th/20th century Impressionist works, like those created by American artists, see: Analysis of Modern Paintings (1800-2000).

Impressionism After 1893

Even after 1893, controversy continued to be heard occasionally. The Art Amateur in March of 1894 took partial issue with the French writer Gustave Geffroy, deploring the lack of idealization in Degas' painting of women and the sameness of Renoir's types, while insisting that Geffroy undervalued the work of Raffaelli who was, the next year, to make the first of several triumphal trips to America where his more sentimental types and more emphatic drawing combined with Impressionist brushwork and broken colour found ready acceptance. And Scribner's Magazine in April of 1896 argued against the invariableness of blue and lilac shadows.

Nevertheless, after 1893, the cause of Impressionism was won. In his Art for Art's Sake of that year, the important writer John Van Dyke argued for the pictorial ideal against the old-fashioned literary idea, recognizing Impressionism as the new and valid art. America had been prepared for Impressionism as France had not, though the groundwork had been laid quickly. Respected authorities and noted artists had rallied to the Impressionist cause even if they themselves were not directly involved with it. In Boston, the Oriental art scholar, Ernest Fenellosa, lectured on the relationship of Japanese art to Impressionism. The much-admired Barbizon painter there, Joseph Foxcroft Cole, imported paintings by Monet for local collectors, and Frederic Porter Vinton, Boston's leading portraitist (who was a pupil and disciple of the Academic master Leon Bonnat) lectured on Impressionism at the St. Botolph Club in that city. Americans may have admired also that unity of style which some of the critics deplored, finding it easier to identify and thus helping to create a vogue. And though Impressionism was French-derived, it was uninvolved with the iconography of violence and sensuality that marked so many of the academic works of fame and notoriety that were shown in the Paris Salon, published in the magazines and in steel engravings, and acquired by the more traditional wealthy collectors. The controversy over Impressionism was one of aesthetics primarily; it was never a matter of morality. For more, see: Legacy of Impressionism.

American Impressionist Paintings (c.1880-1925)

Here is a short selected list of well known paintings by American Impressionists, hanging in some of the best art museums in America, listed alphabetically by painter.

Frank Weston Benson
• Portrait of Margaret ("Gretchen") Strong (1909) National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.

Mary Cassatt
• Self-Portrait (1878) Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
• The Long Gloves (1889) Private Collection.
• Summertime (c.1894) Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Culture.

William Merritt Chase
• Self Portrait (1889) Richmond Art Museum, Richmond, Indiana.
• Shinnecock Hills (1891) Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut.
• At the Seaside (1892) Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
• Idle Hours (1894) Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas.
• Shinnecock Landscape (1895) Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, New York.

Joseph Rodefer De Camp
• The Cellist (1908) Cincinnati Art Museum.
• Seamstress (1916) Corcoran Gallery of Art.

William James Glackens
• Breezy Day, Tugboats, New York Harbor (1910) Milwaukee Art Center.
• Italo-American Celebration, Washington Square (1912) MFA, Boston.

Childe Hassam
• Rainy Day, Columbus Avenue, Boston (1885) Toledo Museum of Art.
• Boston Common at Twilight (1886) Museum of fine arts, Boston.
• Winter in Union Square (1889–90) Metropolitan Museum of Art.
• Commonwealth Avenue, Boston (1892) Terra Foundation for American Art.
• Home of the Hummingbird (1893) Private Collection.
• Piazza di Spagna, Roma (1897) The Newark Museum.
• Allies Day, May 1917 (1917) National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.
• The Avenue in the Rain (1917) The White House.

Robert Henri
• Girl Seated by the Sea (1893) Raymond J Horowitz Collection.
• Snow in New York (1902) National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.

Ernest Lawson
• Spring Thaw (c.1912) Private Collection.
• Melting Snow (c.1913) Terra Foundation for American Art.
• Spring Night, Harlem River (1913) Phillips Collection, Washington DC.

Willard Leroy Metcalf
• Midsummer Twilight (1890) National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.

Maurice Brazil Prendergast
• Ponte della Paglia, Venedig (1898) Phillips Collection, Washington DC.
• Cafe Florian in Venice (1899) National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.

Joseph Raphael (1872-1950)
• Rhododendron Fields (1915) The Oakland Museum.

Theodore Robinson
• By the River (1887) Private Collection.
• La Vachere (c.1888) Smithsonian American Art Museum.
• La Debacle (1892) Scripps College, Claremont.
• Union Square (1895) New Britain Museum of American Art, Conn.

John Singer Sargent
• The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit (1882) Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
• A Street in Venice (1882) Clark Art Institute.
• Street in Venice (c.1882) National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.
• Alpine Pool (1909, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.

Robert Spencer
• The White Tenement (1913) Brooklyn Art Museum.

Theodore Clement Steele
• Bloom of the Grape (1894) Indianapolis Museum of Art.
• The Old Mills (1903) Private Collection.

Edmund Charles Tarbell
• Mother and Mary (1922) National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.

Abbott Handerson Thayer
• Mount Monadnock (c.1892) Corcoran Gallery of Art.

John Henry Twachtman
• Windmills, Dordrecht (1881) Cincinnati Art Museum.
• Arques-la-Bataille (1885) Metropolitan Museum of Art.
• Icebound (1889) Art Institute of Chicago.
• Wild Cherry Tree (1901) Albright-Knox Art Gallery, New York.

Robert Vonnoh
• November (1890) Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

Julian Alden Weir
• The Red Bridge (1895) Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
• Fording the Stream (1910-19) The Newark Museum.

James Abbott McNeil Whistler
• Nocturne in Black and Gold: Falling Rocket (1875) Detroit Institute of Arts.

We gratefully acknowledge the use of material from the exhibition catalogue American Impressionism (1980, Henry Art Gallery) written by Professor William H. Gerdts.

• For the chronology of Impressionism, see: History of Art Timeline.
• For information about Impressionism in the United States, see: Homepage.

© All rights reserved.