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American Impressionists Seen by French Critics

Claude Monet's Home and Garden in Giverny in Spring. Photo by Ariane Cauderlier

Frederick Carl Frieseke, Richard E.Miller and Louis Ritman, whose paintings you can admire in the American Impressionist Gallery of the IMA, lived in France in the early twentieth century. They settled in the Normandy countryside town of Giverny, which had become a colony of artists attracted by the quiet living and beautiful landscapes revealed twenty years before in Claude Monet’s paintings.

 In France, these painters would participate in local exhibitions and develop a network of friends and buyers. They were part of the “Société internationale de peinture et sculpture”and of the “Groupe des peintres et sculpteurs américains de Paris,” which exhibited in Parisian galleries such as the Galerie Georges Petit, Galerie Knoedler, or Galerie Dewambez. Foreign artists were also promoting themselves in societies such as the American Art Association of Paris and the Société Artistique de Picardie. And they frequently exhibited at the Salon, which was the best exposure an artist could dream about in the early twentieth century. Louis Ritman and Frederick Frieseke even became members of the prestigious Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts.

In addition to their commercial success, they also received official honors from the French state: Miller and Frieseke were made Knights of the Legion d’Honneur, Miller received a gold medal at the 1900 Salon de la Société des Artistes Français, and paintings by these two artists were bought by the French state and are still part of the French national collection. Although a lot of their works were shipped to the U.S. where dealers such as Macbeth galleries would sell them, these artists found in France a real exposure and official recognition for their art.

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Leaving for a Summer Holiday in Maine

Frank Weston Benson, "Sunlight," 1909. John Herron Fund; 11.1

The coast of North Haven is where Frank Benson (1862-1951) executed the paintings he is most famous for – he went there every summer from 1898 to the 1920’s with his wife and children, who were his favorite models. Sunlight, the luminous painting owned by the IMA, makes no exception, representing the artist’s daughter Eleanor in a landscape not far from Wooster Farm, the Bensons’ vacation house. You will recognize her silhouette, bathed in sunlight, amongst other paintings in the exhibition Impressionist Summers: Frank W. Benson’s North Haven, if you have the chance to go to the Farnsworth Art Museum this summer.

In North Haven, Frank Benson found a way to convey atmospheric effects in his art, creating his most impressionist works. Indeed, the sunlight is the first thing we perceive of this painting, as we are dazzled by the bright whiteness of the girl’s dress and the clear blue summer sky around her. This will to represent the human figure in natural outdoor light is, of course, eminently impressionist. This is what Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir were seeking when they were painting together in 1869 at La Grenouillère, the famous restaurant on the Seine where Parisians went to spend their Sundays, bathing and boating.

But Frank W. Benson was American and painted Sunlight forty years later, in 1909, in a specific context that led him to this impressionist yet conservative style. Born in Salem, Massachusetts in 1862, Frank Benson studied in Boston, at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, where he became friends with the artists Edmund Tarbell (1862-1939) and Robert Reid (1862-1929), both represented in the collection of the IMA. He is known for his successful academic career:  he exhibited regularly at the Boston Art Club and at the National Academy of Design in New York, he taught at the Portland School of Art in Maine and at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

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About Clementine Delplancq

Title: Terra Foundation Intern for American Art
Favorite Movies: Musicals, from Singin’ in the Rain to the French Jacques Demy movies.
Favorite Music: Everything Ella Fitzgerald ever sang, 60’s bands and singers like Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel and The Beach Boys, as well as indie rock and folk like Devendra Banhart or Cat Power.
Favorite Food: I like all sorts of food, but my French girl heart melts for Provencal cooking and Normand recipes.
Something Extra: I used to sew my own clothes, and I love cooking.

Clementine has written 2 articles for us.