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Sunday, August 9, 2015

Theodore Robinson

The Old Bridge, 1890, Theodore Robinson
Photo of Claude Monet by
Theodore Robinson, 1890
When people talk about a nation's imports and exports, they're usually talking about economics, and for most people, it's instant MEGO (my eyes glaze over). However, there's an element of art involved in imports and exports, and generally, it has little to do with economics. Starting early in the 19th-century, France had as one of it's major export products, art training, centered mostly in Paris around its famed Ecole des Beaux Arts. Paris was, in effect, the art capital of the world, both in producing art and in offering the highest level of art training available anywhere in the world. No artist could consider his training complete unless he'd spent time honing his skills under the tutelage of a French master. However, as the century wore on a somewhat strange phenomena evolved. Artists went to Paris to study at the Ecole, or two or three other major academies offering similar training, but without the prestigious name. They went to Paris to study under Gerome, or Carolus-Durand only to end up studying with Claude Monet at Giverny, some 45 miles down the Seine.

Père Trognon and His Daughter at the Bridge, 1891, Theodore Robinson
Theodore Robinson Self-Portrait, 1884-87
Theodore Robinson was among the first (perhaps the first) American painter to make this trek downriver. He arrived at Giverny almost before Monet. Monet first came to the quaint little village in 1883. Robinson landed on his doorstep in 1884. Monet hadn't even acquired his property there at the time. In the coming years, Robinson was just one of many, including Willard Metcalf (another early arrival) Theodore Earl Butler, (who was married at Giverny and whose Wedding March Robinson painted) Childe Hassam, Julian Alden Weir, John Twachtman, Cecilia Beaux, Frederick Carl Frieseke, Lilla Cabot Perry, the latter names, along with several others, being late arrivals. Giverny was never an "art school" as such with Monet (above, left) as its headmaster but rather more of an art colony with Monet as its headliner.

La Débacle, 1892, Theodore Robinson (I've no idea how the title applies.)
The Cow Girl, 1888,
Theodore Robinson
Some of the later arrivals at Giverny, during the 1890s up through the early 1900s, came already well versed in Impressionism, eager only to study with "the master," sometimes for fairly short periods of time, long enough to say they "knew" or were "best friends" with Monet, while others stayed longer or came and went repeatedly. Robinson stayed eight years; and in his case, he and Monet were, indeed, good friends. Unlike some of the late arrivals, when Monet first welcomed Robinson to Giverny, the American painter was no Impressionist, though his loose brushwork, readily lent itself to the new style. Robinson's early work was quite Realist, not unlike his The Old Bridge (top) from 1890, or his World's Columbian Exposition (below), from 1894, though both paintings date from well after Robinson had switch to Impressionism. Apparently he was quite adept at returning to his earlier style. His The Cow Girl (left) from 1888 and his The Debacle (above), from 1892, are more in keeping with his work bearing the influence and atmosphere of Monet and Giverny.

Worlds Columbian Exposition, 1894, Theodore Robinson

Theodore Robinson at work ca. 1872,
with Canadian painter William Blair Bruce
Theodore Robinson was born in 1852. He began life in a small town located in Northern Vermont, until his family moved to Evansville, Wisconsin, probably sometime in the 1860s. He began studying art in Chicago for a time before moving on to New York to the National Academy of Design and the Art Students League. He first hit Paris and the Ecole des Beaux Arts in 1876 where he was thoroughly indoctrinated in the academic Realism firmly ensconce there at the time. He displayed at the Salon the following year. After brief trips to Bologna and Venice, Robinson returned to the U.S. in 1879. If he encountered the struggling early Impressionists during stay, they apparently made little impression upon the young artist.

Nantucket, 1882, Theodore Robinson, one of his pre-Impressionist works.
In a Daisy Field, Theodore Robinson
For the next five years Robinson was a typical American painter--mostly genre and landscapes. His Nantucket (above), dating from 1882, is typical of his work around this time, as is his In a Daisy Field (right). Then, in 1884, perhaps disillusioned with the "same old, same old" of American painting during the Gilded Age, as Mark Twain called it, Robinson headed back to Paris; and this time, discovering Monet and Giverny, he stayed for eight years, absorbing the best Impressionism had to offer, straight from the source. Although it's uncertain when the two met, of all the American painters who later flocked to Giverny, none were closer to Monet than Robinson. They lived next door to one another and its quite obvious Robinson benefited most from their friendship; though Monet is said to have sought Robinson's advice nearly as often as the reverse. Despite the twelve-year difference in their age, there's was apparently something of a mutual admiration society.

Stepping Stones, 1893, Theodore Robinson, his authentic French Impressionism at its best.
The Forge (or An Apprentice
Blacksmith), Theodore Robinson
Robinson returned to America in 1892 to take up a teaching position at the Brooklyn Art School, and conduct summer workshops in the Catskills of Northern New York. He brought with him what had become one of France's most important exports--Impressionism. The style was not an overnight success in this country. It hadn't been in France either. However here, there was less than two-hundred years of artistic tradition weighing in. In France, there were several centuries of hardnosed resistance to anything new. In France, art was still controlled and defined by the state through the Academie des Beaux-Arts and their yearly salons, though this power was starting to wane somewhat as the century drew to a close. Back in the U.S., the number of "authentic" Impressionists, who, like Robinson, had actually studied the new style in France, were far outstripped by those who had taken up the style second-hand. This is where Robinson and his summer workshops came in. Yet, when not teaching Impressionism, Robinson often fell back on his more traditional roots in genre as seen in The Forge (or An Apprentice Blacksmith) (left) or his On the Tow Path, a Halt, (below) from 1893. Theodore Robinson died quite young in 1896 following an acute asthma attack. He was forty-three years old.

On the Tow Path, a Halt, 1893, Theodore Robinson--genre Impressionism.
Nantucket Girl, Theodore Robinson--something for the girls.

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