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 Robert William Vonnoh  (1858 - 1933)

About: Robert William Vonnoh
 

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Lived/Active: New York/Connecticut / France      Known for: painter-landscape, portrait, marine, teacher

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Robert William Vonnoh
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
In the development of American Impressionism, Robert Vonnoh is significant both as a painter and as a teacher. He was one of the earliest painters to bring European impressionism to America and his canvases had cool tones and balanced compositions with much capturing of light and atmosphere. He completed more than 500 commissioned portraits, and he had a distinguished teaching career in Boston and Philadelphia.

Vonnoh was born in 1858 in Hartford, Connecticut and raised in Boston. He studied at the Massachusetts Normal Art School in 1875, and attended the Academie Julian in Paris in 1880. There he studied with Gustave Boulanger and Jules Joseph Lefebvre. In 1883, he returned to Boston where he taught at the Cowles School in 1884 and at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in 1885.

In 1886, he married, and he and his wife honeymooned briefly in Grez, France. The following year they returned to France, this time for a longer stay, and his work began to display a new direction.

Vonnoh studied French Impressionism and was impressed by Claude Monet, whose influence can be seen in his works of colorful landscapes and bright flowers. His painting at this time also demonstrates the dichotomy of many American Impressionists. Some of his works are almost Fauvist, with raw brilliant colors and paint laid on with wide brushes or palette knife, as in his painting "Poppies" in 1888. Other works from about the same time are done almost entirely in neutral tones, as in "Companion of the Studio", a solid three-dimensional portrait of John C. Pinhey, who was a fellow student at the Julian Academy.

Vonnoh's gradual change towards Impressionism seems to have been influenced by his friendship with the Irish artist Roderick O'Conor, who also was painting in Grez in the 1880s and used unmixed hues and thick impasto in his bright landscapes. Towards the end of the decade, O'Conor had become associated with Van Gogh, and after 1890 he left Grez to go to Pont-Aven, where he painted with the group around Gauguin.

Vonnoh's works in Grez explored light and color in a variety of seasons. His paint was often broadly applied and unmixed, and he liked to use pure color and higher key, juxtaposing the violets, lavenders, and purples of Impressionism.

In 1891, he was back in Boston, converted to Impressionism, and later that year he held a one man show at the Williams and Everett Gallery which included many of the paintings he had done in France.

Vonnoh returned to Pennsylvania in 1891 to teach at the Academy of the Fine Arts, where he continued his enthusiasm for French impressionism. He maintained a commitment to academics, but also encouraged an Impressionistic aesthetic.

At the Pennsylvania Academy he taught portraiture, where his instruction was very popular. Among his students there were Robert Henri, William Glackens, and Maxfield Parrish. He divided his time between teaching and painting, especially portraits, although he did landscapes as well.

He married his second wife, the sculptor Bessie Potter, in 1899, and she is shown in a number of garden landscapes he painted. These paintings are rich in color, suggestive of his time spent in Grez, but his later works become more timid.

Vonnoh died in Nice, France in 1933.

Source:
"300 Years of American Art" by Michael David Zellman

Biography from The Cooley Gallery:
After studying art in Boston as a young man, Robert Vonnoh went to Paris to study and enrolled at the Academie Julian in 1881. Throughout the 1880s, he returned to Paris occasionally, worked as Instructor in Painting at the Boston Museum School, and established himself as a portrait painter. By 1887, he was spending time at Grez-sur-Loing near
Fontainebleau, where he adopted Impressionism, earning him the reputation of being one of the first American painters to do so. In 1891 he was teaching at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

Vonnoh exhibited widely in Paris and the United States, exhibiting more
work at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago than any other American artist did.

Biography from William A. Karges Fine Art - Beverly Hills:
Robert Vonnoh was born in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1858.  He started his art studies at the Massachusetts Normal Art School in Boston, and continued his education at the Academie Julian in Paris.  Vonnoh was one of the first of the Americans artists to be deeply influenced by the Impressionist movement. Vonnoh is remembered as an influential teacher as well, having taught Robert Henri and Maxfield Parrish at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art.  A frequent visitor and resident of France, Robert Vonnoh died in Nice in 1933.

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

Robert Vonnoh (1858-1933)

Robert Vonnoh was one of the first American artists to bring European Impressionism to the United States. A celebrated Impressionist landscape and portrait painter and a gifted and respected teacher, Vonnoh influenced many American artists. His students included William Glackens, Robert Henri and John Sloan, who would later form influential the Ashcan school.

Although Vonnoh was born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1858, he moved to the Boston area with his German-American parents as a youth and began his artistic studies there. He attended the public schools, trained in a lithography shop, and eventually enrolled in the Massachusetts Normal Art School, where he was a pupil under George H. Bartlett and met Edmund Tarbell. After graduation in 1879, Vonnoh began his long and illustrious teaching career, first at his alma mater, then at the Roxbury Evening Drawing School and the Thayer Academy in South Braintree.  He also taught at the East Boston Evening Drawing School, the Cowles Art School, the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia.

Throughout his career, Vonnoh traveled frequently between America and France. In 1881, Vonnoh made the first of many trips to France. He enrolled in the Académie Julian and was a student under Gustave Boulanger and Jules-Joseph Lefebvre.  He frequented the Louvre and had his paintings accepted into the prestigious Paris Salon. During this period in Paris, the French Impressionists were exhibiting their work at the Georges Petit Galleries and at Durand-Ruel, but it is not known if Vonnoh saw these exhibitions.   After two years, he returned to his teaching career in Boston in 1883.  Between 1883 and 1886, Vonnoh was quite active in the artistic circles of Boston, He saw the two great shows of European Impressionist art in the United States—the “Foreign Exhibition” held at the Mechanics Building in Boston in 1883 and the exhibition of French Impressionist art in New York in 1886, which was organized by the American Art Association and lent by Durand-Ruel. Shortly after his marriage to his first wife Grace D. Farrell he return to live and work in France again between 1887 and 1890.

Soon after his arrival in France, Vonnoh settled in the area of Grèz-sur-Loing near the Forest of Fontainebleau. He began exploring in earnest this revolutionary technique of impressionism and mastered it quite quickly.  His adoption of the impressionist aesthetic has been attributed to the influence of Irish painter Roderic O’Conor, who had immersed himself in impressionism and who may have been in Grez during this period. Between 1887 and 1890, Vonnoh fully adopted the vanguard art of the impressionists, but like most Americans he never went as far as his French counterparts in dissolving forms into pure light and color.  Many of the paintings he created during this time were accepted into the Paris Salon, others were sent to Philadelphia for a one-person show at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1889. In 1891, Vonnoh returned to the United States and assumed the position of principal instructor in portrait and landscape painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, which he held through 1894.  He also remarried, after his first wife’s death, to American sculptor Bessie O. Potter in 1899.

During his years in America, between 1891 and 1907 and again from 1912 to 1920, Vonnoh was considered one of the foremost landscape and portrait painters in the country. Around 1905, the Vonnohs discovered the artists’ colony at Old Lyme, Connecticut, Vonnoh spent many summers there over the next twenty-five years and exhibited regularly at the Lyme Art Association exhibitions. After 1925 Vonnoh’s eyesight began to deteriorate, bringing an end to his highly productive career. He returned to Grèz-sur-Loing, France and died of a heart attack in Nice in 1933.


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Robert Vonnoh is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Cornish Colony
Impressionists Pre 1940
Old Lyme Colony Painters



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