National Gallery of Art - EXHIBITIONS
American Impressionism and Realism

Low Tide, Riverside Yacht Club
Theodore Robinson, 1852 - 1896
1894, oil on canvas, 18 x 24 (45.7 x 61), Collection of Margaret and Raymond Horowitz

Theodore Robinson was perhaps the most noticed artist in the early years of impressionist activity in America: one of his landscapes received the important Webb Prize in the Society of American Artists exhibition in 1890, marking in something like an official way the acceptance of impressionism in America. He also, as few others did, came to grips with the issues that French impressionism, which he knew intimately from one of its inventors, Claude Monet, posed for him and other American artists of his generation.

In the year or two before painting Low Tide, Riverside Yacht Club, Robinson referred in his diary to issues that had started to shape his thinking and his work. With Twachtman, Weir, and many others, Robinson greatly admired Japanese art. "Tw. and W. are rabid just now on the J.," he noted on 10 December 1893. "I have too much ignored old art," he wrote on 30 November 1893, "except such as immediately touches what I may be trying for at the moment [but] the best men have been influenced for the better by Japanese art, not only in arrangements, but in their extraordinary delicacy of tone and color. . . ." Like Weir and Twachtman, Robinson owned Japanese prints. Of the first he acquired -- in 1894, the year of Low Tide, Riverside Yacht Club -- he wrote, it "points in a direction I must try & take, an aim for refinement and a kind of precision. . . ."1

Robinson's yacht club paintings recall those that Monet and Renoir painted at Argenteuil in the 1870s. But in style they are less like such high impressionist paintings than later postimpressionist ones, which are closer in date, and closer in the spirit, to Robinson's. Robinson criticized the impressionist opticality and insubstantiality of one of his own paintings by saying it has " 'sunlight' but little else" and for being "too floating, shimmery and not firmly done."2 The correctives to that, clearly apparent in the yacht club paintings, were the firmly plotted spatial structure and explicit pictorial design that bear far less resemblance to impressionist opticality and informality than to the disciplined formal organization of postimpressionism; less resemblance to Monet, despite Robinson's closeness to him, than, for example, to Georges Seurat's landscapes of about 1890, with which they have in essence a greater and truer kinship of purpose.

Nicolai Cikovsky, Jr.
Senior curator of American and British paintings

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Notes

1. Diary, 17 February 1894.

2. Diary, 17 December 1894 and 23 February 1895.