Morning--Old Schofield's Mill

 
Artist
Creation date
Materials
oil on canvas
Mark Descriptions
signed and dated l.l.: T.C. Steele / 1889
Dimensions
30-1/4 x 45-1/2 in. 37-3/4 x 52-1/2 x 3 in. (framed)
Credit line
Gift of Rosemary A. Gatewood and Kenneth Gatewood
Accession number
2011.132
Collection
Currently On View In
Joan D. Weisenberger Gallery - K210

The recent gift of Morning—Old Schofield’s Mill bolsters the IMA’s collection of pivotal works by beloved Indiana painter T.C. Steele. Born in Owen County, Steele sought to become a professional artist when few existed in the Midwest and in 1880 traveled to Germany for training at Munich’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts. In 1885, Steele returned to Indiana. The year after completing this 1889 painting, Steele asked an exceptionally high $400 for it in an exhibition and self-published a reproduction in The Steele Portfolio. Although these activities alerted art historians to the work’s importance, Morning—Old Schofield’s Mill lay hidden in private hands until its donation in 2011.

This 1889 painting bridges the artist’s moody Munich style and the regional Impressionism that marks his later career. Pleasant Run, painted just months after Steele’s return to Indiana, shows the technical skill and strong modeling mastered in Munich. In Morning—Old Schofield’s Mill, Steele lightened his palette considerably and used a looser brushstroke and palette knife to apply paint. The new brighter color choice and freed paint application peaked in the later The Bloom of the Grape, considered the first example of Steele’s Impressionism. Combining strong technical skill with a more personal painting style, the intermediate period of Morning—Old Schofield’s Mill is often considered Steele’s strongest.

Dr. Robert B. Stewart (1896-1988), West Lafayette, Indiana;{1} (Lyman Brothers, Indianapolis, Indiana); purchased by Rosemary and Kenneth Gatewood, Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1968;{2} given to the Indianapolis Museum of Art in 2011.

{1} See correspondence in IMA Historical File (TR11256).
{2} See invoice in IMA Historical File (TR11256).
Reproduction of these images, including downloading, is prohibited without written authorization from VAGA.

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Schofield’s Mill

The painting depicts Schofield’s Mill, a water-powered grist mill that stood from 1836 until 1967 on Fall Creek, near the present-day site of the Indiana State Fairground. The mill was a landmark along the creek, which marked Indianapolis’s north boundary.

In 1889 Steele lived and worked near the business center of Indianapolis. When he could not travel to the countryside, he painted rural scenes along the city’s outskirts.

“Dean of the Hoosier Group”

Steele’s eloquent advocacy for Indiana art earned him the title “Dean of the Hoosier Group.” Around the time he painted Morning—Old Schofield’s Mill, Steele wrote his first major art treatise. “The Development of the Connoisseur in Art” asserted his romantic view that art should reflect “fine appreciation of the beauty of nature.” Steele devoted the rest of his life to promoting regard for Indiana’s culture and native landscape.

Conservation Treatment

At the time of its acquisition, Morning—Old Schofield’s Mill appeared dark and tonal, typical of Steele’s post-Munich landscapes. Treatment undertaken by the IMA conservation department revealed the painting’s original atmospheric color, confirming the work as a transitional keystone between Steele’s Munich and Impressionist periods.

Examination

Conservation began with a technical examination to gather information about the painting and to design an approach for treatment. The painting was studied using a microscope, as well as under normal, raking, and ultraviolet light. Infrared reflectography and x-radiography were used to reveal changes to the composition, details invisible to the naked eye, or old areas of damage—in this work, a 3/4-inch tear in the upper left corner and a protrusion at the lower center.

Cleaning tests revealed that the painting was covered with a heavy layer of dirt and soot as well as a yellowed and dirty varnish. The conservator discovered an earlier restoration attempt in which the original dirt, soot, and yellowed varnish were only partially removed and where areas of retouch were applied on top of a few places of damage. The previous restorer also applied varnish over both cleaned and soot-covered areas, complicating the IMA treatment by creating zones requiring different cleaning solutions. During this previous restoration, additional linen lining fabric was unevenly attached to the original canvas to stabilize the two areas of damage.

Treatment

Working in small sections, the conservator removed the various darkening layers. After lifting the uppermost surface grime with a pH-adjusted aqueous solution, the conservator used mild solvents to remove the restorer’s varnish and small areas of discolored retouch paint.

The conservator then removed the yellowed varnish only to discover another thin dirt layer directly on top of the original paint, suggesting that Steele waited a year before applying his varnish—a recommended but often overlooked practice in oil painting. This thin layer of dirt was carefully removed, unveiling the texture, color-brightness, and atmospheric effects originally intended by Steele. A non-yellowing synthetic varnish was applied on the front of the painting for proper color saturation and surface protection. Lastly, the conservator retouched small areas with easily reversible materials and added a final synthetic varnish. A future step of conservation will undertake the careful removal of the lining canvas added during the previous restoration attempt.

The conservation treatment allows today’s viewers to see Morning—Old Schofield’s Mill as it was first exhibited in 1890 by the Art Association of Indianapolis, precursor to the IMA, and will ensure a longer life for this important work.