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Theodore Robinson

 (1852 - 1896)
Theodore Robinson was active/lived in New York, Vermont / France.  Theodore Robinson is known for Landscape, genre, portrait painting.

Theodore Robinson

Biography from the Archives of askART

Born in Vermont and raised in Wisconsin, Theodore Robinson was a founding member of the Art Students League* in New York City and then became one of the pioneers of Impressionism* in America.  His style was refined with feathery brushwork and a soft palette, and he continually explored facets of the innovative style.

He first studied in Chicago and then in New York and after that, spent eight years in France studying in Paris with Jean Leon Gerome, Carolus Duran, and Benjamin Constant, and in Barbizon* with Jean Corot.  He was one of the first Americans to paint at Giverny* during Claude Monet's presence there and the only American to work directly with and have a close friendship with Monet.  He has been described as physically frail and a gentle human being.

From 1888-1992, he made Giverny his home, and from that time became known for impressionist style landscapes with prominent realistically depicted female figures--elements of realism from academic studies at the Ecole des Beaux Arts* and the National Academy of Design* in New York City. He also traveled and painted during that time in Italy.

In 1892, he returned permanently to the United States and attempted to meld French Impressionist techniques with American landscape subjects. He died very unexpectedly from an acute asthma attack, and, although was well respected by his peers at the time of his death, he achieved national attention posthumously, many years later.  For a person living only forty-three years, he had, in retrospect, a remarkably successful career as an artist.

Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art

*For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary at

Biography from the Archives of askART
A leading American Impressionist, Theodore Robinson was perhaps the most traditionally French in style.  Originally from Wisconsin, he studied art in Chicago and New York before moving on to France for the better part of two decades.  Arriving in 1876, he studied with Carolus Duran and Jean Leon Gerome.  Duran was spontaneous, and one only has to see the work of John Singer Sargent to appreciate those qualities.  On the other hand Gerome was meticulous, much like his American pupil Thomas Eakins. Robinson wanted to achieve both. He did this through pioneering use of photography, and well orchestrated, large-scale compositions. The subjects were a product of his rural American background, often relating the art of Winslow Homer, whose work he was known to have admired.

Robinson worked on both sides of the Atlantic until 1884 when he made France his primary residence.  There he joined a group of six other artists who elected to spend their summers outside of Paris, in Giverny.  Giverny had numerous attractions to the young artists: it was close to Paris, the scenery was delightful as it was located in a rural valley of the Seine, between Paris and the sea, and lastly it was home to Claude Monet.  Monet was/is justly famous for his contributions to Impressionism, but was something of a recluse. Possibly dating to the negative reactions to his earliest and then most radical work, Monet did not encourage students to work around him.

The Americans were something of an exception, as in the mid to late 1880's Theodore Robinson, Theodore Wendel, Willard Metcalf, Louis Ritter, Henry Fitch Taylor, and a Canadian William Blair Bruce were actively working on Monet's back yard. Eventually yet another American, Theodore Butler married one of Monet's step-daughters. Of all of them the favorite was Robinson, and the closeness of the relationship is extensively documented in the surviving volumes of Robinson's diaries.  Despite his mentor relationship with Monet, Robinson was slow to adopt the higher keyed palette of the older artist, and continued to produce traditional peasant images.  He was often likened to Jules Bastien-Lepage and Jean Francoise Millet. Ultimately what developed was an overlay of Impressionist color on an image of French working folk.  Only when he returned to America in 1892 would his palette brighten significantly.  Sadly he died four years later, cutting short one of America's brightest lights.

dates from the early French period, and shows the early Winslow Homer influence on the choice of subject matter. A hint of the future explosion of color is found in its fond treatment of the landscape in the background. It was considered to be important enough to be included in the landmark 1946 Brooklyn Museum exhibition catalogue by John Baur, which re-introduced the works of Theodore Robinson to a new generation of museum goers and art historians. His paintings continue to be the focus of numerous museum exhibitions and catalogs.

Alexander Boyle, who was featured on the television show "America's First River, Bill Moyers on the Hudson".  Boyle worked with the Metropolitan Museum of Art as the Assistant Director of a film, "American Paradise, the World of the Hudson River School" and from 1988 to 2001 was Vice-President of Godel & Co. Fine Art in New York where he bought, sold and wrote about the artists of the Hudson River School, American marine painting, and American Impressionism.

Biography from the Archives of askART

Theodore Robinson was born in Irasburg, Vermont on July 3, 1852. His father was a clergyman; the family lived in Townshend, Vermont until Robinson was three but he was mainly brought up in Evansville, Wisconsin. He grew up to be a frail and slight creature plagued by asthma. This chronic illness cut short his training at the Art Institute of Chicago, but his formal schooling was resumed later at the National Academy of Design in New York City and subsequently abroad. From 1876 to 1878 he studied in Paris under Carolus-Duran, alongside John Singer Sargent, and under Jean-Leon Gerome.

In 1879 Robinson returned to the United States and lived mainly in New York and Boston. He earned his living by teaching and by assisting John La Farge and Prentice Treadwell with mosaic and stained glass decorations for the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. The summer of 1882 he spent on Nantucket Island with Abbott Thayer, Joe Evans and other friends, painting daily. His work was impressionistic, not with the capital "I" of the French painters, but in the sober tradition of American plein-air painting.

Robinson returned to France in 1884; he worked in Paris and Barbizon and was strongly influenced for a time by the Barbizon school. In 1887 he and a group of young American painters began painting in Giverny where he met Monet. The two formed a thoroughly rewarding friendship. He remained in Giverny until 1892, occasionally making trips back to New York and to Italy. He moved back to New York City in December of 1892. He painted New England scenery, landscapes along the Erie and Delaware Canals and taught outdoor summer classes for Evelyn College in Princeton, New Jersey and for the Brooklyn Art School. His career was cut short on April 2, 1896, when he died of an acute asthmatic attack in New York City.

Written and submitted by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California.

From the Internet, and

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

Theodore Robinson (1852-1896)

Theodore Robinson's skillful, vibrant interpretation of Impressionism established him as a key proponent of the style, both in the United States and abroad. In addition to developing his own version of this artistic style, he promoted the work of Impressionist painters in his teaching and writing.

Born in Irasburg, Vermont, in 1852, Robinson moved to Wisconsin at an early age. Encouraged by his mother, he began formal artistic training at the Chicago Academy of Design in 1869. Shortly thereafter, the chronic asthma that ultimately cut short Robinson's life forced him to suspend his studies. Four years later, Robinson resumed his studies in Chicago before enrolling at the National Academy of Design in New York City in 1874. He became involved in the New York art world and participated in the founding of the Art Students League of New York.

Two years later, Robinson, like many of his contemporaries, went to Paris to continue his art education at the Académie Julian. He proceeded to the École des Beaux-Arts, the studio of the French academic painter Jean-Léon Gérôme. He also studied at the private atelier of Emile-Auguste Carolus-Duran, where he met a number of American art students, including J. Carroll Beckwith and John Singer Sargent. Beginning in 1877 he spent summers in the village of Grèz-sur-Loing, a gathering spot for American artists working in the French Barbizon style. After a trip to Venice during which he met James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Robinson returned to the United States in late 1879. Having exhausted his financial resources, he established himself as an art teacher in New York City, assisted John La Farge with a number of mural projects, and worked for Prentice Treadwell on architectural decorations in Albany, Boston and New York. By 1884 he had accumulated enough money to return to his beloved France.

Based in Paris, Robinson spent summers at Barbizon and visited Holland and Dieppe. The turning point in his career arrived when, in 1887, he spent the first of five summers at the small farming village of Giverny, located on the Seine in the Normandy region of France. Claude Monet had settled there in 1883; however, scholars are unsure whether Robinson and his artist-friends were aware of the French painter's country home when they made their first trip there. Irritated by the presence of the young American painters in Giverny, Monet took pains to avoid them. Nevertheless, Robinson was one of a select few Americans to develop a close friendship with the French artist. Passages in Robinson's personal diaries and letters reveal that he made frequent trips to Monet's home to discuss matters of art.

Although not formally a student of Monet's, Robinson became part of his inner circle and soon began painting in an Impressionist style. Robinson certainly borrowed artistic ideas and techniques from Monet, but his work was immediately distinguished from Monet's by its thinner application of paint and softer, more muted palette. Like almost all American Impressionists, Robinson never fully dissolved the human figure and other forms in light, but retained solid forms, vestiges of his academic training. Robinson embraced Monet's practice of painting the same scenes outdoors at different times of day in order to more fully understand the effects of light upon the landscape.

In December 1892, Robinson left France to set up permanent residence in New York. His fame as a practitioner of Impressionism preceded him—he had been awarded the Webb Prize for landscape by the Society of American Artists in 1890. Robinson assumed a public role as an advocate for Monet's work. In an influential article published in Century Magazine in September 1892, he praised and defended the French artist's Impressionist style.

Robinson spent the rest of his career painting landscapes, often working in the Connecticut countryside in the company of close friends J. Alden Weir and John Henry Twachtman. They would paint together, critique each other's work, and endlessly discuss and debate Monet's theories. Through his work as teacher at the Brooklyn Arts School, Evelyn College in Princeton, New Jersey, and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, Robinson also introduced the Impressionist style to a younger generation of American artists. By 1896, when he died of an acute asthma attack at the early age of forty-three, Robinson had succeeded in educating the American eye to an appreciation

Biography from Spanierman Gallery
One of the first and most important of the American Impressionist painters, Theodore Robinson was responsible for introducing French Impressionism to many Americans.

He was born in Irasburg, Vermont, in l852 but moved with his family to Wisconsin when he was three. He was a sickly child; an asthmatic condition plagued him throughout his life and was responsible for his premature death at age forty-four.

Robinson's studies began in Chicago, but in l874 he moved to New York City to study at the National Academy of Design. In l876, he went to Paris to study under Emile Auguste Carolus-Duran, but left to enroll at the Ecole des Beaux Arts under Jean-L‚on G‚rome. His paintings were mostly of landscapes and figures executed still in a realistic style. He spent summers in the village of Grez-sur-Loing with a colony of Americans, including the artists Birge Harrison and Will H. Low and the writer Robert Louis Stevenson. Before returning home in l879 Robinson spent some time in Italy. His only meeting with James McNeill Whistler occured in Venice, where the two artists painted side by side.

Upon his return to America, Robinson taught in New York City and Boston, where he did decorative work under John La Farge for both public and private buildings. During this time he also made a number of journeys from the city: to Jamaica, Vermont, Boston and then to Nantucket where he summered with artists Joe Evans and Abbott Thayer and produced a number of paintings of local subjects. By l884, however, he had accumulated enough money to return to his beloved France to paint.

The turning point in Robinson's artistic life came when he went to live at Giverny, near Rouen, and met the resident artist there, Claude Monet. Although never Monet's student, Robinson became part of his inner circle. His colors became softer, his brushstrokes lighter and his paintings more sensitive, although he still retained decisive contours at this time. Like Monet he often painted serially, utilizing the same outdoor scene in different lights.

A second trip to Italy and a brief return to New York City fall into this Giverny period. Robinson returned to America in l892 seeking to apply his fully developed Impressionist style to American subjects. A steady stream of artists visited his studio on l4th Street, including many who would become Impressionists as a result of their acquaintance with Robinson's advanced style. He also renewed his friendship with J. Alden Weir and John Henry Twachtman. He was a frequent visitor to Twachtman's home in Greenwich, Connecticut and spent long evenings with the Weirs in Branchville, Connecticut, discussing his new discoveries.

His style at this time had evolved closer to Monet's. The outlines of the forms were hazy and the colors were applied with loosened strokes. But before Robinson could carry this style any further he suffered an acute asthmatic attack and died in New York City in l896.

Robinson's work is in the Addison Gallery of American Art, the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Columbus Museum of Art, the Terra Museum of American Art, the Georgia Museum of Art and in many other public and private collections.

Lisa N. Peters

COPYRIGHT 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, LLC nor shown or communicated to anyone without due credit being given to Spanierman Gallery, LLC.

Biography from The Columbus Museum of Art, Georgia
Theodore Robinson had a rich, although rather short, artistic career, which was filled with continuous bouts he suffered from severe asthma.  During his forty-four years, he evolved from being a strong realist to a devout Impressionist. 

Robinson began his career with studies in both Chicago and at the National Academy of Design in New York.  In New York he also played a significant role in the formation of the Art Students League.  He admired Winslow Homer's work in those student days, and in fact paid a visit to the artist after he moved to New York.(1)  He traveled to France in 1876 where, like other Americans, he studied with Carolus-Duran, Jean-Léon Gérôme, and Benjamin Constant.  He shared a studio in Paris with Will H. Low, Birge Harrison, Carroll Beckwith and John Singer Sargent.(2 ) By the next year he had a painting shown at the Salon. 

Robinson met James McNeill Whistler while traveling in Italy. He returned to the United States in 1879, and after a brief visit to his home in Evansville, Wisconsin, he taught and was employed to paint murals in Boston and New York under the tutelage of John LaFarge.  Robinson eventually returned to Europe, basing himself in Paris until his fateful meeting with Claude Monet in 1888.(3) Although he had already visited Giverny once before, the relationship with Monet and Robinson's exploration of Giverny, became instrumental as he loosened the academic realist tendencies in his art for the more spontaneous and colorful impressionist doctrine.  Monet enjoyed his privacy at Giverny and avoided most of the artists who ventured there, with Robinson as one exception.  Robinson wrote of visiting with Monet and looking at his series paintings of Rouen Cathedral.  "Never, I believe, has architecture been painted so before, the most astonishing impression of the thing, a feeling of size, grandeur and decay, an avoidance of the banal side of the subject. …Isn't it curious, a man taking such material and making such magnificent use of it. …Monet was cordiality, itself—It's very pleasant to think I have a place in his affection."(4) 

Monet and Giverny inspired Robinson for many years until he returned to the United States permanently in 1892.  During these last few years Robinson focused his painting on the American subjects around him.  In 1895 William Macbeth gave Robinson his first one-man show in New York, which was received with positive yet lukewarm criticism and produced few sales.  In fact, the sale of his paintings produced such a meager income that Robinson was compelled to teach at several art schools to make ends meet.  During these years Robinson trekked throughout the states on the eastern seaboard in search of subject matter under the guise of adapting the American landscape through the manner of Impressionism.  He was not alone in this artistic approach, as his comrades J. Alden Weir and J. H. Twachtman were also dedicating their art to this style.  This select group soon succeeded in placing themselves as the foremost American Impressionists in the 1890s.  This fame was short-lived for Robinson, however, as he succumbed to the asthma that plagued him throughout his life, cutting his career short with his death at the young age of 44.
1. Theodore Robinson, American Impressionist: 1852-1896, (New York: Kennedy Galleries, 1966), 7.
2. John I.H. Baur, Theodore Robinson, 1852-1896 (New York: The Brooklyn Museum, 1946), 20.
3. For biographical information, see also Theodore Robinson, 1852-1896 with Introduction by Sona Johnston (Baltimore: Baltimore Museum of Art, 1973).
4. Dorothy Weir Young, The Life and Letters of J. Alden Weir (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1960), quoted in ibid.
Submitted by the staff of the Columbus Museum

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About  Theodore Robinson

Born:  1852 - Irasburg, Vermont
Died:   1896 - New York City
Known for:  Landscape, genre, portrait painting