JOHN HENRY TWACHTMAN (1853-1902)
Little Giant, ca. 1900-02
Oil on canvas
20 x 24 inches
During his last three summers, John Twachtman joined a community of artist friends in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and created a number of his most dynamic and vibrant works. Inspired by the picturesque scenery, harbors, piers, and coasts of Cape Ann, he used a direct approach reminiscent of the manner he had used in the late 1870s while a student in Munich. However, he also drew on the stylistic modes developed over the course of his career. He employed the fresh, bright, and pure colors of the Impressionist style he had adopted in the 1890s, and he constructed simple and forceful compositions reflecting an awareness of design that had solidified in his art over the course of his career.
In addition to his new stylistic approach, in Gloucester, Twachtman explored a new subject matter. In the 1890s, he had devoted most of his attention to the motifs on his property in Greenwich, Connecticut, and had ignored public places. In Gloucester, he painted characteristic aspects of the life of the town, capturing the energy and festive qualities of a locale that was an old fishing village, a flourishing resort, and a retreat for artists. This orientation is apparent in Little Giant. In this painting, Twachtman features the pilot boat that ferried passengers between Rocky Neck, a small peninsula off the coast of East Gloucester, and the town of Gloucester. When this vessel reached the Rocky Neck landing, which Twachtman portrays, it did not stop, and passengers had to jump onto it. Twachtman suggests the movement of the boat, rendering the roof of its open deck with a swath of white impasto, and portraying figures sketchily.
For Twachtman, the excitement of the scene existed mainly in its variety of forms, and he brought out their different aspects by modifying his stylistic means. Blending light blue and lavender pigments into the canvas weave in the water and sky, he conveys the stillness of the hazy summer day. The quiet, harmony of the scene is enhanced by the way that occasional sailboats merge with the gently contoured landscape on the distant shore. By contrast with the softly blended tones, in the foreground, he painted the ferry pier with strong, calligraphic lines of pigment forcefully dragged across the canvas surface. He conveys the rustle of shadows in the water with an animated brush and dark shades of green and rose that echo tones in the water and sky.
Little Giant demonstrates Twachtman's ability to sum up the essence of a scene and express its poetry. He captures the delicate sparkle of Gloucester's light and air, evoking a sense of peace and ease in the viewer. At the same time, he draws us along the spidery pier down to the slowing ferry, conveying the lively experience of the picturesque town that was an important fishing harbor, a delightful vacation spot, and a landscape of paintable charms.
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