JOHN HENRY TWACHTMAN (1853-1902)
Autumn Mists, ca. 1890s
Oil on canvas
25 x 30 inches
In the 1870s and early 1880s, John Twachtman was part of a generation of young artists who went to Europe to receive training, experience, and inspiration. Traveling four times to art capitals abroad, Twachtman studied in Munich and Paris, and worked in popular painting locales such as Venice, Tuscany, Dordrecht, and Normandy. The European phase of his career ended when he returned to America permanently in the winter of 1885-1886.
Three years later, he settled in the countryside outside the town of Greenwich, Connecticut, establishing the home where he would reside for the rest of his life. In Greenwich Twachtman found surroundings that satisfied his interests in the subtleties of nature, and he painted his home and property in all seasons of the year in a personalized Impressionist style, capturing the character of a subject through the way he painted it. Twachtman's Greenwich approach is exemplified in Autumn Mists. His site in this work seems grander and more expansive than that of his own property. It is, nonetheless, possible that he was exaggerating and expanding features of the familiar countryside to fulfill his artistic conception. Indeed, this is a painting that seems more about mood and atmosphere than about a specific place. While we can discern the motifs included-a broad, quiet river and a landscape marked by a rising flat-topped hill-Twachtman's emphasis was on conveying a sense of tranquility. The composition's dominant horizontals are significant in this regard, as they establish a sense of stability and order, much as they do in the artist's much earlier serene French period painting Arques-la-Bataille of 1885 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). Additionally, the high horizon and the low vantage point draw our attention to the surface of the canvas, as does the way that Twachtman chose to paint the hillside with as much solidity as its reflection in the water. Here eliminating details, he makes us aware of the landscape's colors and tones and its masses and textures. Shrouded in a hazy atmosphere, the hillside is brought to life by the motion of the artist's brush and the delicate layers that he applied of luminous and ethereal blues, pinks, mauve, greens, and yellows. With these tones, he captured the effect of diffused sunlight mingling with the vaporous mist that has settled over the river.
With its emphasis on surface patterning, Twachtman's arrangement in Autumn Mists is highly modern. The painting's modernity is also revealed through the sense of mystery it evokes. The solidity of the earth and the lighter, more ephemeral qualities of the mist and water create a visual ambiguity, questioning which is more real, the landscape or its reflection, the scene depicted or the beauty of the canvas's painted surface. Indeed, while Twachtman's quiet, poetic image of a peaceful river reflects the meditative spirit of most of the art of his own age, it also addresses the profound questions that would be taken up by a new generation of artists in the early twentieth century.
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