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Monday, July 27, 2015

Robert Lewis Reid

People Sketching by the Shore, Robert Reid.                         
Being an Impressionist portrait painter meant he could also paint landscapes.                     
When I come upon an artist I like, usually he or she has some primary style or area of content for which they're best known. If, for instance, the artist has painted portraits, which make up maybe ninety percent of their work, the first thing I look for is whatever else that artist may have done. I take it for granted that their portraiture is superb, or at least above average. Also, there's the fact that their portraits were likely not all that different from those turned out by a hundred or so of their peers. All of which tends to make them...if not boring, at least less interesting than any secondary content. This same works in reverse too, except that a landscape painter is not necessarily equally adept at painting portraits. In fact that's more often than not the case. Robert Lewis Reid was an American, turn-of-the century Impressionist who painted primarily portraits (below). Actually, he further limited himself almost exclusively to female subjects--very beautiful female subjects.
Tempting Sweets, 1924, Robert Reid, painted toward the end of his
career when his portraits became less impressionist.
An artist does not become an Impressionist by painting portraits. One first learns to paint at home then moves to Paris where one learns Impressionism by painting landscapes. Even Claude Monet did not start out painting Impressionist portraits. Robert Reid was born in 1862. He grew up in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and first studied art at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, before moving on to New York and the Art Students League. Then in 1885, Reid was off to Paris and the Academie Julian. It was there he learned the art of landscape in the French Impressionist style. Though A Woodland Stream (below, left) dates from 1899, (long after Paris) and Autumn Sunlight (below, right) likely from around the same time, they both bear the mark of French, rather than American Impressionism, to a point so heavy with visual texture as to near abstraction.

A Woodland Stream, 1899, Robert Reid
Autumn Sunlight, Robert Reid

Lady with a Parasol, 1921, Robert Reid

Four years later, in returning to New York, Reid found a position teaching at the Art Students League and the Cooper Union (competing schools, but that seemed not to matter). On the side, he expanded his repertoire to include murals and stained glass. In so doing, he found work at the 1893 Chicago World's Columbian Exposition, specifically painting frescoes for the dome of the Liberal Arts Building. Then in 1897, Reid and ten other artists broke away from the Society of American Artists to form the Ten American Painters. In 1906 he became a full member of the National Academy of Design. Around the turn of the century, Reid worked on several mural projects, which affected his style. It became less Impressionist. Thus, when he returned to painting the lovely ladies around 1905, his work was more naturalistic (above, right and at top), his palette trending toward soft pastels shades.

Three Figures in an Italian Garden, Robert Reid

The refinement in Reid's painting style is no more evident as when Lady with a Parasol (above, right) is compared with his Three Figures in an Italian Garden (above) painted several years earlier. The latter has an academic quality which suggests it may, in fact, date from his four years studying in Paris. Most artists tire of painting the same type of work again and again (portraits in Reid's case) to the point they yearn to break free to something totally different. Being a New Englander, that may well be what we see in his Cornish Fisherman At Sea (below). Despite the reference to English fishermen in the title, the subject and style seems equally northeastern American. That's certainly the case with his Street Scene in Winter (bottom) which is obviously New York City in the 1920s. Though in retirement during that decade, Reid continued to paint right up to his death in 1929 at the age of sixty-seven.

Cornish Fisherman At Sea, Robert Reid

Street Scene in Winter, Robert Lewis Reid

I couldn't resist adding this very
uncharacteristic beauty. Why is
it so different? It's by Robert O. Reid.
(December, 1947).

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