The NBMAA is currently showing American Reflections: The Collection of Dr. Timothy McLaughlin in the Davis Gallery. This private collection is composed of a wide variety of local and regional subject matter. The exhibition is a focused view of Dr. McLaughlin’s collection of landscape paintings from the mid 19th to early 20th century. Following are several highlights of the exhibition.
The artistic heritage of Connecticut is rich and deep. Portraitists and limners earned a living here in colonial times. The nineteenth century saw the advent of history painting and landscape painting. A number of Hudson River School artists came from the state, lived here, or worked here. American Impressionism was embraced very early by painters in the artists’ colonies of Cos Cob and Old Lyme. I believe this heritage is reflected in my collection. Connecticut’s varied and beautiful landscapes are contemplated in many of the works in this exhibition. I am confident that the sensitive viewer will recognize the beauty of these American reflections in their daily lives. – Dr. Timothy McLaughlin
The Impressionists preferred sunlight to shadows; light, air, and color as experienced outdoors; and fleeting daily scenes as opposed to mythological or historical subjects. Artists strove to render not the landscape itself but the sensation it produced. While the French depicted middle- and working-class subjects, the American Impressionists focused on sophisticated society and picturesque views of nature. The differences arose from America’s emergence as a world power at the turn of the twentieth century, newly rich and recently influential.
William Chadwick’s style clearly reflects the changes occurring in American Impressionism at the time. The artist’s fascination with Impressionistic landscape is evident in Millstone Point, which embraces the spontaneous quality of the style. The picture disregards traditional hierarchies of subject, order, and finish, capturing instead a snapshot in time, as waves crash against the rocky shoreline. Chadwick’s bright palette is complemented by his quick, light brushstrokes. Millstone Point was the site of a quarry in Waterford, Connecticut, and presently is the location of the only nuclear power plant in the state.
John Ferguson Weir was part of the Weir Dynasty, with his father being Robert W. Weir (1803-1889), a professor of drawing at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York and his brother, Julian Alden Weir (1852-1919), an important American Impressionist painter.
East Rock is a much visited basalt ridge situated between New Haven and Hamden, Connecticut. Weir painted his first known painting of East Rock in ca. 1900, which he exhibited at the National Academy. In 1880, the ridge and the area surrounding it became East Rock Park and a road was also built to facilitate access to the summit.
Weir painted at least five different versions of East Rock. Two of these paintings, East Rock, New Haven and New Haven from East Rock (ca. 1900–1901; New Haven Museum and Historical Society), could be read as companion pieces since both depict ample vegetation, loose brushstrokes, and an excellent quality of light. New Haven from East Rock shows the ridge situated to the left in the painting with a southwestern view towards the factories of the town. In contrast, East Rock, New Haven depicts the ridge on the right-hand side of the painting with a northeastern view, approaching East Rock from New Haven.
The loose brushwork, the extensive foliage and the focus on light convey a feeling of Impressionism, which was the style that Weir used from the 1890s until the early 1900s.
Hudson River Highlands shows a northwestern view from Constitution Island, which is located across from West Point, New York. Storm King Mountain is situated on the left-hand side of the painting and Breakneck Ridge and Mount Taurus on the right. Due to the way Sanford Robinson Gifford modeled the light while painting Mount Taurus it seems as if there were two mountains. In the far distance, one can detect the river bending into a northern direction. Here Gifford amplified the natural contour and altitude significantly, even more than he changed the height of the mountains in the middle ground.
Even though Hudson River Highlands was painted somewhat quickly, it still depicts the same characteristics of the rest of Gifford’s work, such as chromatic shadows, warm light, and hazy atmosphere. Upon closer inspection, one can see the pencil underdrawing, for instance in the outlines of the hills to the right and the left of the river. This makes it apparent that Gifford was not always faithful to his drawings while applying his oils.
At first glance Landscape, Sunset over the Hills, which is bathed in shadow, seems empty. But upon closer inspection one can see several sheep in the foreground as well as a farmhouse with its windows illuminated on the left hand side of the painting. When looking at the lake one can also see the trees’ reflections in the water as well as the ripples in the water that are in fact reflections of the clouds in the sky. In this work, Aaron Draper Shattuck captured the peaceful and subdued atmosphere of twilight. The trees and the mountains, rendered in silhouette, create an ideal contrast with the yellow and red shades in the sky. One can also recognize a pattern in the clouds. The ones on the left drift towards the center of the painting, whereas the ones on the right move towards where the sun has just set.
Even though Shattuck was a successful painter, his work had faded into complete obscurity by the early twentieth century. Landscape, Sunset over the Hills is an excellent example of Hudson River School painting and proves why Shattuck has more recently been recognized as an important American painter of the nineteenth century.
Have you seen American Reflections: The Collection of Dr. Timothy McLaughlin yet? What did you think of it? If you would like to learn more about this private collection please feel free to peruse the exhibition catalog in the gallery.
What would your collection look like? What types of media, time periods, art movements, national or international artists would be represented? Why would you include some and not others?
Make sure to sto pby BEFORE the exhibition closes on October 24!