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Monday, October 7, 2013

Dennis Miller Bunker

Chrysanthemums, 1888, Dennis Miller Bunker.

Head Study, (self-portrait), 1880s,
Dennis Miller Bunker
The Parisian art dealer, Paul Durand-Ruel. is often credited with having brought French Impressionism to the United States with his landmark exhibition in New York in 1886. Second only to Durand-Ruel, and no doubt influenced by his exhibit of works by artists Monet, Pissarro, and others, the American painter, William Merritt Chase, is the name most often associated with Impressionism on the west side of the Atlantic. However, Chase was not the only American landscape painter to see the Durand-Ruel show. Equally important at the time, Dennis Miller Bunker, as well as Childe Hassam, also looked and liked what they saw. Bunker, in fact, might today be considered the "father" of American Impressionism in place of Chase except for one unfortunate detail. He died of meningitis in 1890 at the age of twenty-nine.
Eleanor Hardy Bunker, 1890,
Dennis Miller Bunker. Even after switching
to Impressionism, his portraits remained
quite traditional both in style and color.
Bunker, like Chase and Hassam was quite predisposed to embrace Impressionism. All three had studied in Europe, particularly in France. However, when American artists flocked to Europe to study art in the late 19th century, they did not go to study Impressionism. They went to study the classics. Moreover, they studied under various academicians. And while they may have noticed the Impressionists, their work left little impression on these impressionable young artist. Only Hassam seems to have admired them, even in passing. Though painters in the U.S. were impressed with, Durand-Ruel's painterly impressionists, the public viewed them with no small degree of culture shock not unlike that of the Parisians some twenty years earlier. American viewers, however saw them as strangely exotic while Parisians viewed them as more or less fraudulent--slapdash globs of paint daubed around with an eye more toward quantity than quality. As Durand-Ruel himself put it, "In Paris they laugh. In America, they buy."

Tree, 1884, Dennis Miller Bunker--before he discovered Impressionism,
Bunker seems to have favored working from photos. Notice the flat, yet sloping
horizon, often an indicator of photographic sources. Though not derived from
photos, Bunker's color sense seems photographic to our modern-day eyes.
Despite some resistance by American critics, American painters took note that Durand-Ruel's show of imported Impressionism sold out. That being the case, artists like Bunker, Chase, Hassam, and a few others, already having absorbed European Classicism like proverbial sponges, took to sopping up the economic liquidity of Impressionism as well. Bunker's Chrysanthemums (top) was painted in Boston just a few months after the Durand-Ruel show opened in New York and is in stark contrast to his Tree (above), painted just four years earlier. Though his palette did not change appreciably (perhaps brightening a little) as Bunker embraced Impressionism, his The Pool, Medfield (bottom) from 1889 seems as thoroughly Impressionist as anything a French art dealer might haul across the Atlantic.

The Pool, Medfield, 1889, Dennis Miller Bunker
--Americanized Impressionism, rich, vivid, and high contrast.


  1. I can not believe that I have not heard of Dennis Miller Bunker. What a tragedy to lose such a gorgeous painter at such a tender age of 29. Love his style of tonalist impressionism . more subdued than the French . he died young like poor Fantin Latour.

  2. Yes, on the whole, artists today quite often live to a ripe old age, and in general, we tend to take old age for granted in today's world with all the myriad medical means we've manifested in maintaining a long, meaningful life. But in the past, there were thousands of ways people could die young, and artists were no less susceptible to them than anyone else. In fact, sometimes, because of smoking, drinking, and the other forms of riotous living artist seem prone to, they may have been MORE susceptiable. One of the more fascinating things I notice in writing about artists from the past is their causes of death. For every kingpin artist like Leonardo or Michelangelo, who seemed to hold on forever, there were dozens of others, such as Raphael, who died in their 30s and 40s at the height of their careers.