National Gallery of Art - EXHIBITIONS
American Impressionism and Realism

September Sunshine
John Twachtman, 1853 - 1902
c. 1895, oil on canvas, 25 x 30 (63.5 x 76.2), Collection of Margaret and Raymond Horowitz

In 1889 John Twachtman acquired seventeen acres of land on Round Hill Road in Greenwich, Connecticut.1 On the property was a farmhouse, steadily enlarged over the years, in which the artist lived with his wife and seven children, and through the property ran a stream, Horseneck Brook, which fed Hemlock Pool. During the 1890s, the most productive period of Twachtman's life, house, stream, and pool would all be the subjects of many of Twachtman's best-known paintings. September Sunshine is one of many depictions of the house.

As his contemporaries understood, Twachtman was one of the most advanced, most modern artists of his generation; J. Alden Weir, for instance, said, in the year after Twachtman's death, that he "had been in advance of his age," and Thomas Dewing said at the same time that he was "too modern . . . to be fully recognized or appreciated at present."2 His modernity was expressed by his associations with such attitudes or languages of style as impressionism, Whistlerism, and Japanism (he collected Japanese prints), and all of which, especially in late nineteenth-century America, were signifiers of modernist affiliation.

Yet regardless of his many associations with impressionists and impressionism, Twachtman was not an orthodox impressionist, and perhaps not even an impressionist at all. Indeed, he was on the whole antipathetic to impressionist (scientific and realist) objectivity. He disliked the work of a contemporary, he said, because it consisted "too much in the representation of things,"3 for, as he wrote Weir, expressing his idealist subjectivity, "Ten thousand pictures come and go every day [in his mind] and those are the only complete pictures painted, pictures that shall never be polluted by paint and canvas."4 Twachtman's anti-naturalist, anti-materialist, anti-positivist sympathies, his preference for what his student Eliot Clark called "the elusive and fascinatingly evasive effects of nature" and his "love for nuance,"5 were closely allied to symbolist allusiveness and indirection. Formally, his style resembles Paul Gauguin's synthetism flatness, decoration rather than depiction, painted surfaces rather than insistent pictorial illusions. In Twachtman's paintings of the 1890s particularly, like September Sunshine, everything happens on the surface, and nothing is allowed to compromise its integrity.

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

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Notes

1. Twachtman and his family probably first lived on the property as tenants, later purchasing it in two installments in 1890 and 1891. For the most complete discussion of Twachtman's relation to his Greenwich home, see Lisa N. Peters, "Twachtman's Greenwich Paintings: Context and Chronology," in Deborah Chotner, Lisa N. Peters, and Kathleen A. Pyne, John Twachtman: Connecticut Landscapes [exh. cat., National Gallery of Art] (Washington, 1989), and Lisa N. Peters, "John Twachtman (1853 - 1902) and the American Scene in the Late Nineteenth Century: The Frontier within the Terrain of the Familiar," Ph.D. diss., City University of New York, 1995.

2. "John H. Twachtman: An Estimation," North American Review 176 (April 1903), 561, 554.

3. Letter to J. Alden Weir, 2 January 1885, quoted in Kathleen A. Pyne, "John Twachtman and the Therapeutic Landscape," in Chotner, Peters, and Pyne 1989, 53. The artist was Jules Bastien-Lepage, whom Weir much admired.

4. Letter of 5 September 1880, quoted in Pyne 1989, 56.

5. Eliot Clark, John Twachtman (New York, 1924), 43, 68.