Waterfall, ca. 1895

Oil on canvas

30 x 24-7/8 inches

Signed lower left:  J. H. Twachtman

Emerging from a winding canyon corridor, the river depicted in Cascades widens and fans out, falling in a torrent over a steep cliff.  Twachtman expresses the beauty and freshness of the landscape with an animated brushwork, conveying the force of the water, the jostled pattern of spray and ripples at the base of the falls, and the quickened rhythm of the cascade as it extends towards another steep drop at the right side of the canvas.  Twachtman compels the viewer through the landscape with sparkling and crisp colors and a realistic treatment of nature.

However, rather than rendering the scene in a broad panoramic format as did American artists earlier in the century, Twachtman concentrates closely on the cascading falls which form the central focal point of the arrangement.  The surrounding landscape seems to curve around them.  Hillsides, rendered with a sketchy and suggestive treatment, appear to envelop them.  The extremely simplified composition allows the work to be read as a complete and unified design.  The soft green with which Twachtman renders the landscape and the beige tone of the canvas ground, which may be seen in areas throughout the work, also add to the unity.  During the mid-1890s, Twachtman created a number of book jacket covers which in their accentuation of curving continuous lines suggest the art nouveau style.  His awareness of decorative values is also apparent in Cascades, in his attention to overall surface patterning and the tonal coordination of his color scheme.  The work reflects the uniqueness of Twachtman's art, his ability to see nature through a fresh and personal vision.  Cascades illustrates the statement made by his friend Thomas Dewing that Twachtman "never composed or arranged in the conventional sense."[1]The work also exemplifies the "great beauty of design" which Childe Hassam commented on.[2]

Like almost all of Twachtman's Greenwich period works, Cascades is not dated.  However, the sketchy and direct paint application reflect the confident and controlled brushwork of Twachtman's works of the mid-1890s.  The simple and abstract composition relates Cascades to the depictions of the geysers and pools that he rendered in Yellowstone in the fall of the 1895.  The work indeed may be a representation of Yellowstone although the site cannot be definitively identified.  Cascades was originally owned by Major William A. Wadsworth (1847-1918), the patron who supported Twachtman's trip to Wyoming, and who commissioned the Yellowstone series.  The site could also be a view of the waterfall on his Greenwich, Connecticut property that Twachtman painted repeatedly during the 1890s, although the falls seem grander in scale and more dramatic than those he rendered in Greenwich.


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[1]  Thomas Dewing, "John Twachtman: An Estimation," North American Review 176 (April 1903): 554.

[2]  Childe Hassam, "John Twachtman: An Estimation," North American Review 176 (April 1903): 555.

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