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 John Henry Twachtman  (1853 - 1902)

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Lived/Active: New York/Connecticut/Massachusetts/Ohio      Known for: landscape and portrait painting, illustrator

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, John Twachtman became a leading Impressionist and Tonalist painter of atmospheric landscapes of the late 19th century.  He was a founding member of Ten American Painters, a group that broke away from the disciplines of the Academy of Design in New York City.  Art historian William Gerdts described Twachtman as "the most consistently admired of all the Impressionists painters until the denunciation of Impressionism in American in the wake of more avant-garde developments.(108).

He first studied at the Ohio Mechanics Institute, and in 1874 began to paint with Frank Duveneck, an artist of the Munich School of direct, impasto brushwork, often in dark tones.  In 1875, Twachtman went to Europe and studied at the Royal Academy in Munich and in 1877, went with Duveneck and William Merritt Chase to Venice.  A year later, he taught at Duveneck's school in Florence, and in 1881 went to Holland with Julian and John Weir.

His style changed from the dark sombre tones of the Munich School in 1883, when he went to Paris and studied at the Academie Julian with Jules Lefebvre and Louis Boulanger and became influenced by James Whistler's Tonalism and the French Impressionists.  From that time, his style was characterized by low-key gray and green tones, almost monochromatic, and smooth texture.  In the 1890s, his paintings became lighter, and as he got older, his canvases became even brighter and more impressionistic, and he painted a number of winter scenes.  He purchased a 17-acre farm near Greenwich, Connecticut where he did many landscapes dealing more with the essence of nature than the reality.  He also taught summer classes at Gloucester and did some illustration work for Scribners.

In 1893, he won a Silver Medal from the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and in 1894 was commissioned by Charles Carey of Buffalo, New York to do a series of paintings of Niagara Falls, which was quite a change to his usual subjects of painting the woods of Connecticut.  The next year Major William Wadsworth of Genesco, New York commissioned him to do a series of four paintings of the western half of Yellowstone Park in Wyoming.  Arriving in September of 1895, he was so taken with the scenery and its contrast to his own environment that he did extra paintings for himself.

Source:
Michael David Zellman, Three Hundred Years of American Art
William Gerdts, American Impressionism
Peter Hassrick, Drawn to Yellowstone


Biography from William A. Karges Fine Art - Beverly Hills:
John Twachtman was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1853, he studied there at the Mechanics Institute before leaving for further work at the Royal Academy in Munich. Before returning to the U.S., Twachtman also studied and taught in Venice, Florence, Holland, and Paris, where he picked up the low-keyed tonalist palette of J.M. Whistler.

Back in the states, he bought land in Greenwich, CT, which he painted regularly. His palette brightened considerably toward the end of his life. He is best remembered as one of America’s foremost Impressionists, and as a founding member of the Ten American Painters.

Biography from The Columbus Museum of Art, Georgia:
John Henry Twachtman’s first contact with art was very likely through his father, an immigrant from Germany in the 1840s who for a while painted still lifes and landscapes on window shades. (1)  By 1874 Twachtman was studying with Frank Duveneck, who encouraged his students to paint people they met on the streets of Cincinnati.

When Duveneck returned to Munich in 1875, he took Twachtman with him.  The young artist enrolled in the Royal Academy of Munich and studied with Wilhelm Leibl, who encouraged his students to paint their first-hand experience of the world. (2) Twachtman and Duveneck also traveled throughout Europe at this time.

During the following decade, Twachtman traveled back and forth between Europe and Cincinnati and New York, exhibiting his works and teaching.  In New York he forged friendships with contemporary American artists such as William Merritt Chase, J. Alden Weir, John Weir, Theodore Robinson, and Childe Hassam.  Perhaps influenced by these new contacts, he moved to Paris, where he enrolled at the Académie Julian in 1883. As a result of his studies there he developed a lighter palette.

Twachtman at this point had begun to focus on landscape painting.  He was equally interested in capturing the atmospheric conditions of a scene in the tradition of English artist John Constable, and in interpreting natural elements through expressive painterly techniques as seen in the work of J. M. W. Turner.  Twachtman expanded the visual design elements of color, line, and perspective to create a certain perceptible mood in his paintings.

In 1897 he became a founding member of Ten American Painters, a group of artists who were influenced by French impressionism and disassociated themselves from the Society of American Artists and their exhibitions.  As the first generation of American impressionists, members of the group brought the French movement to the forefront of the American art scene.  In 1890 Twachtman purchased a seventeen-acre farm in Connecticut and set up a studio.  When he first walked the land he discovered Horseneck Brook, a humble stream that fed a small waterfall. Upon seeing this watercourse, it is said he exclaimed, “This is it!” (3) It was a scene that he would paint repeatedly.

The farm was the inspiration for much of his later paintings, providing subjects that ranged from the waterfall to his gardens, arbors, woodlands, and even a footbridge he had constructed.  Visible in all of these compositions is the inspiration he found in the work of Claude Monet. 

Lisa Peters noted, “In scenes of the waterfall on his Greenwich property, he sought to capture the character of his subject. Leaving backgrounds undifferentiated, he brought the falls into the foreground, drawing our attention to the changing rhythms of the water, which he expressed by varying the force and energy of his brushstrokes and the thickness of his paint. Without a sense of scale or context, the images focus on the falling water itself rather than on the symbolic associations evoked by the subject or on its scenic appeal.”(4)

Twachtman’s capricious colors and his lavish impasto lend spontaneous and vibrant beauty to the rushing cascade, which hovers on the verge of abstraction.  The effervescence of light gleaming off the water as it tumbles over rocks and across fissures is as much about nature as it is about the act of painting.  Despite his advanced age, the artist's exuberance is also visible in this fully realized work by a master in complete control of his process.

Twachtman died in 1902.


Sources:
1. Lisa N. Peters, In the Sunlight: The Floral and Figurative Art of J.H. Twachtman. (New York: Spanierman Gallery, 1989): 18. also, see Peters and Judy Larson, John Henry Twachtman: An American Impressionist (Atlanta: High Museum of Art, 1999).

2. Ibid., 24. Leibl was a student of Gustave Courbet, who came from the realist tradition and advocated painting subjects from everyday life.

3. John D. Hale, The Life and Creative Development of John H. Twachtman. 2 vols. Ph.D. diss. Ohio State University, 1957: 16.

4. Peters, John Henry Twachtman: An American Impressionist: 131, 135.


Submitted by Staff, Columbus Museum

Biography from Spanierman Gallery (retired):
Landscape painter John Henry Twachtman was one of the most original and modern artists of the late nineteenth century. Trained in Munich and Paris, and a member of the most advanced American artist groups of his day, John H. Twachtman was at the forefront of the American avant-garde throughout his career. The work of his Greenwich Period, for which he is best known, was influenced by Impressionism and Tonalism, yet Twachtman's stylistic synthesis was unique. Often compared with Claude Monet and James McNeill Whistler, Twachtman developed an experimental technique and explored innovative compositional means to create subtle and poetic images that anticipated directions in twentieth-century abstract painting.

Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, to German immigrant parents, John Twachtman found his first employment in his hometown at Breneman Brothers, a design firm that produced window shades, where his father also worked. At age fifteen, he enrolled as a part-time student in the School of Design at the Ohio Mechanics’ Institute. In 1871 he transferred to the McMicken School of Design where his classmates included Kenyon Cox, Joseph DeCamp, Robert Blum, Lewis Henry Meakin, and William Baer, all of whom achieved artistic prominence in their later careers. Frank Duveneck, however, was the most important contact of Twachtman's Cincinnati years. Twachtman had known Duveneck through mutual ties in the Cincinnati German community, but the younger Twachtman came under the slightly older artist's influence when he joined the evening class Duveneck taught at the Mechanics' Institute in 1874-75 on his return from four years of study at the Munich Royal Academy.

Duveneck invited Twachtman to paint in the studio he shared with Henry Farny and the sculptor Frank Dengler, and in 1875 when Duveneck returned to Munich, Twachtman accompanied him. Enrolling in the Munich Royal Academy in the Fall of 1875, Twachtman studied under Ludwig von Loefftz, a painter of realist genre scenes. In the summer of 1876, Twachtman visited the small Bavarian town of Polling, which had attracted a large community of artists including many American painters. American artists Charles Ulrich and Walter Shirlaw also spent time in Polling in the summer of 1876.

In the spring of 1877 John Twachtman joined Duveneck and William Merritt Chase in Venice, where he remained for approximately nine months. After returning to America in 1878, Twachtman briefly visited Cincinnati before going to New York. There, in 1878, he participated in the first exhibition of the Society of American Artists, which elected him to membership in 1880. During his time in New York, Twachtman lived in the Benedict building on Washington Square, painted the city's harbors in a bold realist style, and participated in the activities of the Tile Club. Many important contacts were made in Tile Club gatherings including artists J. Alden Weir and R. Swain Gifford.

Twachtman returned to Cincinnati in the fall of 1879 to teach at the Women's Art Association, remaining in Cincinnati through the summer of 1880. In October he sailed for Italy. Reaching Florence in the next month, he became a teacher in a school that Duveneck had established there and fraternized with a group of fellow painters, who became known as the Duveneck “boys.” These included Otto Bacher, Oliver Dennett Grover, Louis Ritter, Theodore Wendel, and Joseph DeCamp.

After his marriage in 1881 in Cincinnati to the artist Martha Scudder, John Twachtman went to Europe on his honeymoon (see Holland Meadows, painted on this trip). The couple visited England, Belgium, and Germany, but spent most of their time in Holland, where they painted in Dordrecht and its surrounding communities with J. Alden Weir and his brother John Ferguson Weir. During this trip, Twachtman sought out and met the Dutch Hague School painter Anton Mauve who gave him encouragement and advice.

Like many other artists of his generation, he felt the necessity of a term of study in Paris, and, in 1883, he departed for the French capital, where he continued his training at the Académie Julian under Gustave Boulanger and Jules-Joseph Lefebvre. John Twachtman's fellow students included American artists Childe Hassam, Willard Metcalf, Frank W. Benson, Edmund C. Tarbell, and Robert Reid, all of whom became lifelong friends. During his summers abroad, Twachtman painted near Honfleur and Dieppe, in Normandy, and at the end of his sojourn in the winter of 1885, he spent time in Venice with Robert Blum. Influenced by his training as well as by the art of James McNeill Whistler, that of the French pleinairiste Jules Bastien-Lepage, and by Japanese prints, his work changed during his French period; his palette remained low-key, but his tones became more closely modulated and his brushwork became fluid and large not apparent.

Following his return to America in 1886, Twachtman went to Chicago where he worked on a cyclorama of the Civil War Battle of Gettysburg. His associates on this project were friends from Munich and Florence, including Grover, John O. Anderson, and Thadeus Welch. By the winter of 1888, Twachtman had moved east once more, and was spending time visiting Branchville, Connecticut, where J. Alden Weir lived. That summer, he stayed with his family in Branchville, which by then included three children, Alden (1882-1974), Marjorie (1884-1964), and Elsie (1886-1895). In 1889, Twachtman and Weir held a joint exhibition and sale of their works at the Ortgies Gallery in New York, and four years later, the American Art Gallery featured their work in a comparative exhibition with that of Monet and Paul Besnard. Twachtman produced illustrations for Scribner's from 1888 to 1893, and in 1889, he began to teach at the Art Students League. These activities provided the income with which he purchased a house and land in Greenwich, Connecticut, in 1890. He eventually acquired seventeen acres. During the years in Greenwich, the artist and his wife had more children, although two died young, Eric Christian (1890-1891), who died as a baby, and Elsie, who died at age nine of scarlet fever. The artists other children were Quentin (1892-1954), Violet (1895-1964), and Godfrey (1897-after 1979).

During the 1890s, John Twachtman’s home and property in Greenwich was his primary subject matter. Over the course of his years in Greenwich, he had modified his home, changing it from a small, upright farmhouse to a rambling, low-lying structure that was oriented with the lay of the land and appeared unified with its site. For the front of his house, the architect Stanford White designed a columned Tuscan portico, while a dining room was open to the sky with vine trellises overhead. At the back of the house, the artist planted a garden, consisting largely of wildflowers that grew freely on either sides of sunlit paths and around an outdoor patio. Through his property, Horseneck Brook meandered. The artist portrayed the brook throughout the year, depicting it under ice in winter and emerging during spring thaws. He painted the small pools that extended from it, delighted in depicting a waterfall that cascaded just behind his home, and he built a white wooden latticed bridge over it that became the subject for several works. A large pool gathered to the southwest of his home became a place for his children to row boats and another subject that he could explore in his art.

In his paintings, he continued his interest in soft tonal qualities, but he adopted an Impressionist technique, painting with broken brushwork and blending his colors directly on canvas. John Twachtman's introduction to the new style came not only through seeing the work of French painters in New York galleries, but also through friends such as Theodore Robinson, who had spent time over the course of many years in Giverny, France, where he was a close friend of Claude Monet. An interest in structured compositions and a strong sense of design also become apparent in Twachtman’s Greenwich paintings.

In 1897 Twachtman was a founding member of the Ten American Painters, a group of primarily Impressionist painters who broke from the Society of American Artists. He continued to teach at the Art Students League through the 1890s, bringing students to the Holley House in Cos Cob (near his home in Greenwich), during the summers where he occasionally resided. He spent the summers of 1900 to 1902 in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where he joined his old friend Duveneck and other painters many of whom started their careers in Cincinnati. For his Gloucester works, Twachtman painted alla prima, returning to the bold painterly style of his Munich years, but retaining the bright palette of his Greenwich art. One-man shows of his paintings and pastels were held in New York, Chicago, and Cincinnati in 1901. In the summer of 1902, Twachtman died suddenly in Gloucester. Several of his colleagues wrote at the time of Twachtman's modernity, the "great beauty of design" in his work, and his ability to express the spirit of the places he painted. Thomas Dewing wrote: "By the death of John H. Twachtman, the world has lost an artist of the first rank...He is too modern, probably, to be fully recognized or appreciated at present: but his place will be recognized in the future."1

John Twachtman's works are in numerous important private and public collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Cincinnati Art Museum, Ohio; the National Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C.; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Brooklyn Museum, New York; the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, D.C.; the Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.; the Cleveland Museum, Ohio; the Detroit Institute of Arts, Michigan; the Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri; the St. Louis Museum of Art, Missouri; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California; and many others.

LNP

1 T. W. Dewing, "John H. Twachtman: An Estimation," North American Review 176 (April 1903), p. 554.

© The essay herein is the property of Spanierman Gallery, LLC and is copyrighted by Spanierman Gallery, LLC, and may not be reproduced in whole or in part without written permission from Spanierman Gallery, LLC, nor shown or communicated to anyone without due credit being given to Spanierman Gallery, LLC.

Biography from Hollis Taggart Galleries (Artists, R-Z):

John Henry Twachtman (1853-1902)

American Impressionist John Henry Twachtman, son of German immigrants, was born in 1853 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Before receiving his first formal artistic training in Cincinnati, he worked commercially as a window-shade decorator. He attended the Ohio Mechanics Institute, transferred to the McMicken School of Design in 1871, and studied with Frank Duveneck from the fall of 1874 until the late spring of 1875. Like many American artists during the late nineteenth century, Twachtman sought European training to supplement his initial study in the United States. Duveneck convinced Twachtman’s parents to allow their son to travel abroad with him. In the fall of 1875, Twachtman enrolled at the Royal Academy in Munich, an important training ground for a generation of Cincinnati painters that included Robert Blum, Joseph DeCamp, Edward Potthast, and Thomas Satterwhite Noble. In Munich Twachtman learned and adopted the rich, dark palette, alla prima (painted all in one sitting) technique, and bravura brushwork associated with Bavarian painting at this time. In the spring of 1877, Twachtman accompanied Duveneck and William Merritt Chase to Venice; however, after his father’s death about nine months later, he returned to Cincinnati.

In the fall of 1883, after spending time in Cincinnati, New York, and several New England towns and taking two more trips to Europe, Twachtman enrolled at the Académie Julian in Paris, where he studied with Gustave Boulanger and Jules-Joseph Lefèbvre. His French-period works display improved draftsmanship and a new interest in representing atmospheric conditions. These pictures also demonstrate Twachtman’s experimentation with progressive trends in landscape painting and his familiarity with images by the French painter Jules Bastien-Lepage, the Hague School artist Anton Mauve, the American expatriate painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler, and Japanese master printmakers Hiroshige and Utamaro.

In the winter of 1885, Twachtman returned to the United States, where he continued to develop his own Impressionist manner. By the fall of 1889, he had found the plot of land in Greenwich, Connecticut, where he would reside for the rest of his life. Unlike other artists, such as his friends Childe Hassam and J. Alden Weir, Twachtman lived in Greenwich all year round and commuted to New York to teach at the Art Students League and the Cooper Institute. In addition, he supported himself intermittently by working as an illustrator for Scribner’s Magazine and by teaching plein air painting at Newport, Rhode Island, and Cos Cob, Connecticut, in the summers. His house and garden on Round Hill Road in Greenwich and the surrounding scenery provided the motifs for many of his pictures during this period.

Inspired by the French Impressionist images he saw in New York and the American Impressionist works of his friends, including Theodore Robinson, who had a close rapport with Claude Monet, Twachtman arrived at a personal Impressionist style. Unlike other American landscape painters of this period who gravitated to especially picturesque or panoramic subject matter, Twachtman favored views that were less obviously grand. For example, in Newport, he chose to paint grassy inland hills rather than the spectacular rocky shoreline. At home in Connecticut, he often painted close-ups of flowers and bits of landscapes, providing quiet, intimate views intended to reflect the spirituality of the scenes. Such choices reflected Twachtman’s belief that ordinary sites best represent “nature’s mystery” and sheltered landscapes capture its contemplative quality. (1) In the 1880s Twachtman adopted a lighter palette and began using quick, vigorous brushstrokes to capture fleeting light effects, but his ultimate goal differed from that of most Impressionists. Twachtman was more interested in capturing the emotions that a place evokes than in expressing how perception shapes experience.

Twachtman actively participated in the New York art world. He exhibited regularly with the Society of Painters in Pastel, the American Water Color Society, and the Society of American Artists. In 1897, frustrated by the conservative attitude of the Society of American Artists, Twachtman and nine friends—DeCamp, Hassam, Weir, Frank Weston Benson, Thomas Wilmer Dewing, Willard Leroy Metcalf, Robert Reid, Edward E. Simmons, and Edmund Charles Tarbell—formed an exhibiting society called the Ten American Painters or “The Ten.” While summering in Gloucester near Duveneck and DeCamp, Twachtman died suddenly of a brain aneurysm on August 8, 1902, only four years after the founding of The Ten. William Merritt Chase replaced Twachtman in the group, which continued to exhibit together until 1918.

(1) Lisa N. Peters, John Henry Twachtman: An American Impressionist (Atlanta: High Museum of Art distributed by Hudson Hills Press, New York, 1999), 69.


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