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Sunday, October 13, 2013

Theodore Earl Butler

Grainstacks, End of the Summer, 1890, Claude Monet
Impressionist artists painted a broad variety of subjective content. Impressionism was, after all, only peripherally involved with content. It was much more attuned to color and texture, both visual and tactile. Thus, in terms of content, Impressionism was much like other types of painting at the time, with the artists choosing what might conceivably sell combined with what could be produced in a reasonable amount of time. Those two factors, of course, eliminated much of the Academic fascination with religion, mythology, and history. Impressionism favored the "pretty" whether flowers, landscapes, still-lifes, children, ladies, or naked women (the last two were considered oceans apart). It might surprise some to know that one of the most consistent content areas for Impressionists was hay--dead grass. It had to be neatly stacked, of course, in the hut-like, mushroom-shaped piles favored by the French, and the light had to be "just right."

Grainstacks, Giverny, 1897, Theodore Earl Butler
When we think of Impressionist haystacks, we automatically think of Claude Monet. Monet painted his first haystack about 1865 (Haystacks at Chailly). Monet may have been one of the first to paint these stacks of dead grass (mostly in the 1880s). But he certainly was not the last, though they'd kind of gone out of style well before the turn of the century (probably from overexposure). Monet's best friend, Renoir, painted them, as did van Gogh, Gauguin, Alfred Sisley, even the German Expressionist, Franz Marc. Jean-Francois Millet painted "grain" stacks (as the French prefer to call them) in 1874, well before they became "chic." Perhaps one of the best "grainstack painters" (above) was none other than Claude Monet's son-in-law, the American expatriate painter, Theodore Earl Butler (below, right).

Theodore Earl Butler, 1909
Though they were a few years apart, compare
Monet's Grainstacks, End of the Summer (top) to Butler's Grainstacks, Giverny (above). Though Butler was undoubtedly influenced by Monet, it's not hard to see that Butler's palette was not Impressionist at all but Expressionist, his bright, raw, color sense one might guess to be somewhat distressing to his wife's step-father. Actually, that may not have been the case. In fact, some of Monet's later work toward the end of his career was brazenly colorful, leading one to wonder if maybe Butler didn't exert some influence over Monet. However, during the 1890s when they undoubtedly painted together, any similarity Butler's canvases had to those of Monet largely ended with their subject matter.
The Wedding March, 1892, Theodore Robinson--Theodore Butler and his bride.
Theodore Earl Butler was an Ohioan (like myself), born in Columbus in 1861. He got his degree from Marietta College in 1882. (Marietta College is about 15 miles from where I live.) Butler also studied under Kenyon Cox and William Merritt Chase at the Art Students League in New York. In 1885 Butler joined the onslaught of would-be American artists flocking to Paris to study. There he met Pierre Bonnard, Edward Vuillard, and eventually, through them, Claude Monet. Doing so, meant a trip to Monet's fabled Giverny. Perhaps more importantly, there Butler met Monet's stepdaughter, Suzanne Hoschede (below, left), whom he married in 1892 (above). When you're an ambitious, up-and-coming young artist trying to make a name for yourself in the art capital of the world at the time, it doesn't hurt to know the right people...and their step-daughters.

Lily Butler in Claude Monet's Garden, ca. 1914, Theodore Earl Butler

Suzanne Hoschede Butler,
1891, Theodore Earl Butler
Butler's relationship with his famous father-in-law was not entirely one-sided. Monet helped Butler's standing in France while Butler became an important link to Monet's work moving across the Atlantic. Butler also built a new house in Monet's orchard for himself, Suzanne, their son, Jimmy, and daughter, Lily (above). Despite his closeness to Monet, Butler's colors and painting style much more closely align with those of his friends, Bonnard and Vuillard. Much of his work from this period, aside from the occasional grainstack, involved genre scenes of his wife and family.

Brooklyn Bridge, 1900, Theodore Earl Butler
Suzanne Butler died in 1899.  Her sister, Marthe, helped raise the children while Butler turned his attention mostly to landscapes. That same year, Theodore Butler decided to go back to the United States. In New York, he used his "French connection" to exhibit in the galleries of Paul Durand-Ruel, the number one distributor of French Impressionism in America. But as so often happens, with artists especially, Butler found himself having become more French than American. Six months later he was back at Giverny where he married Marthe Hoschede, to become for a second time, Monet's step-son-in-law.

Flags, 1918, Theodore Earl Butler, celebrating the end of WW I. The Butler family
moved to New York in 1914, then back to Giverny in 1921 to care for the aging
Monet, who died in 1926. Theodore Earl Butler died in 1936.


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