Published: March 18, 2015
American Impressionism: The Lure of the Artists' Colony, prepared by the Reading Public Museum
Runs from March 7 through May 31 at the Dayton Art Institute, 456 Belmonte Park North, Dayton (directions).
Just in time for spring, the Dayton Art Institute's current special exhibit will drop you into a world of sunny pastures, soft flowing rivers and lush foliage.
Impressionism is a term you might remember from your freshman year art history class, and probably brings to mind Monet's floating lilies or Degas' dancers. But the Dayton Art Institute's special exhibit is pure American, with 100 paintings that offer a glimpse at the life of these early 20th century painters who traveled to Europe to learn the techniques of the French masters and then formed summer colonies where they made their living teaching their craft.
The exhibit's pieces come from the Reading Public Museum's permanent collection in Pennsylvania, and flow geographically to represent communes from Connecticut to California. Aimee Marcereau DeGalan, DAI curator of collections and exhibits, calls them emotional and escapist.
"They're distinctly American, and take us away from the daily life to places where people are herding sheep, and I think people like that," she said.
Here's a few that will sweep you up into dreams of long balmy nights and pastoral pastimes.
Robert Lewis Reid, (American, 1862 - 1929), Summer Breezes, c. 1910 - 1920, oil on canvas, 33-3/4 x 39 inches, Reading Public Museum
Stateside, times were changing, and while the Gallic artists embraced the burgeoning city life, Americans were already nostalgic for the quickly receding countryside as the Industrial Revolution was chugging full steam ahead, DeGalan said. "Summer Breezes," with its loose brushstrokes but solid form, more linear than the French technique, is like a breath of fresh air. You can imagine Reid inhaling deeply with relief as he escaped his bustling urban life to teach art and bond with other artists in a country commune in Cos Cob, Connecticut.
Frank Weston Benson, (American, 1862 - 1951), On Grand River, c. 1920, oil on canvas, 42 x 50-1/2 inches, Reading Public Museum
These Americans certainly weren't static; they traveled not only to France to follow their painting passions, but to Germany and Italy and across the States. While this Benson painting is reminiscent of French Impressionist Edouard Manet, the river strokes give away the American style.
"It's kind of like they're tipping their hats to their predecessors, but going their own way," DeGalan said.
Edward Willis Redfield, (American, 1869 - 1965), Winter in the Valley, oil on canvas, 51 x 66 inches, Reading Public Museum
As anyone who's trekked through Dayton's deceptively icy streets on a windy winter day can confirm, fighting through the elements is no joke. It's even more impressive then, when you find out how artists like Redfield captured these vast landscapes.
"They would tie canvas to the trees and wade out in the snow," DeGalan said. "You get the sense of how quickly they had to have been working if they're out there waist-deep in snow."
Daniel Garber (1880 - 1958), Goat Hill, c. 1930, oil on canvas, Reading Public Museum
Here's a bit of a regional player: Garber studied at the Art Academy of Cincinnati around the turn of the century. Several Garbers hang on the DAI's second floor full-time, and DeGalan said she hoped that this exhibit would draw more visitors to their small but strong permanent collection too.
Arthur Prince Spear, (American, 1879 - 1959), Pot of Gold, 1921, oil on canvas, Reading Public Museum
This piece almost didn't make it into the exhibit. DeGalan had to cut 11 pieces from the original Reading exhibit, and this one, which was painted right at the end of the impressionist period, almost clashes with the scenes of pastures and rivers.
"But it's actually a really great moment to talk about the prism," DeGalan said. "People think (impressionism) is just pretty pictures and flowers and lush landscapes, but there were theories behind the way they were painting their pictures."
DAI reconstructed the scene with light projecting through a prism onto a white wall with a life-size golden pot, so be sure to snap a selfie.
For more information about the exhibit and to check out all of the DAI's fantastic collections, visit daytonartinstitute.org.