JOHN HENRY TWACHTMAN 1853-1902
Oil on canvas, 20 X 29" (50.80 x 73.66 cm.)
Signed, lower left
Museum purchase, 937-0-401
John Twachtman was born in Cincinnati. His first artistic efforts were painting floral window shades for his father's business during the day while spending his evenings training at the Ohio Mechanics Institute. In 1874 he studied at the Cincinnati School of Design with Frank Duveneck, who sent him in 1875 to Munich, where he worked with Ludwig von Loefftz at the Royal Academy. In 1877 Twachtman went with Duveneck and William Merritt Chase to Venice. From 1883 to 1885 Twachtman was instructed by Jules Lefebvre and Louis Boulanger at the Acad6mie Julian in Paris, where he was influenced by the paintings of James Abbott McNeill Whistler and the French Impressionists, and became friends with Childe Hassam and Theodore Robinson. Twachtman returned to the United States, and by 1888 had settled in Connecticut where the core of his work was executed. That same year he won the landscape prize for the Society of American Artists, and in 1889, he had a successful two-man show with J. Alden Weir. He acquired property in Connecticut around the time he was hired to teach at the Art Students League. With Weir and Hassam, he helped found the American Impressionist group called The Ten in 1898.
Twachtman's artistic evolution began with a naturalism based on the earth tones and the fluid brushwork he learned from Frank Duveneck and the Munich school, progressing through the muted harmonies and abstract patterning of Whistler, and finally comprehending more closely than any other American landscape painter the mature Impressionism of Claude Monet. Twachtman's pictures lack Monet's scale or symphonic fullness, but they emulate some of the Frenchman's subtleties of perception, densely woven color harmonies, built-up impasto, and scumbled, broken brushwork.
Although Landscape follows the traditional horizontal format, it is nevertheless eccentrically constructed. Twachtman was notably exceptional, and modern, in the frequency with which his landscape
compositions were square or vertical, with a high or even absent horizon line. In contrast to the Dutch and French landscape painters, who commonly structured their pictures around a dominant sky and low horizon, Twachtman, like many other American landscape painters, gives over most of his composition to the land. His works are usually centered around a principal, generally darker, motif which forms a calligraphic flourish and focus, often connected to the picture's diagonal axes. The main marshy mass of Landscape orders the composition more in terms of organic centrifugal outgrowth than of geometrically parallel horizontals. Its somber shape dominates the sloping horizon and vertically sprouts into wiry wintry trees, set against a pale gray sky. Two years after this painting was done, I Twachtman wrote to Weir: ". . . I feel more and more contented with the isolation of country life. To be isolated is a fine thing and we are all then nearer to nature. 1 can see how necessary it is to live always in the country-at all seasons of the year." Twachtman's use of the word "isolation" is instructive, since, like Landscape, his other works are generally devoid of figures and quite often lack evidence of human habitation. His paintings richly document seasonal change, with fall and, especially, winter, much more frequently depicted than the spring and summer favored by the French Impressionists.
Twachtman was fond of poetry, and loved especially Heinrich Heine. Music was even more of a passion for him, especially the works of Romantics like Johannes Brahms, Frederick Chopin, and Franz Schubert. Taken as qualities, both music and poetry are terms which could be applied to Twachtman's work, full as it is of the atmosphere, harmony, and "color" that characterize the other two art forms. Landscape sings an autumnal lyric of growth and decay, of seasonal death and renewal.