Hemlock Pool
by John H. Twachtman
32.18-Twachtman_HemlockPool-Phillips-1928.34_large
John H. Twachtman (American, 1853–1902), Hemlock Pool, ca. 1900. Oil on canvas, 29⅞ × 24⅞ in. (75.9 × 63.2 cm). Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Massachusetts, gift of anonymous donor, 1928.34

John H. Twachtman
Hemlock Pool, ca. 1900.
Oil on canvas, 29 7/8 x24 7/8 in. (75.9 x 63.2 cm)
Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Massachusetts,
gift of anonymous donor, 1928.34

The subject
Twachtman’s Greenwich, Connecticut, property provided his favorite subject matter during the 1890s. He frequently painted nearby sites like Horseneck Brook, its waterfall and pool surrounded by hemlock trees. Hemlock Pool is one of several paintings of this subject. [1]

“Never is nature more lovely than when it is snowing”
Hemlock Pool, which depicts a late winter scene in shades of peach, mauve, and lavender, exemplifies the delicacy of Twachtman’s palette. The painting evokes the serenity of the winter landscape, a quality that Twachtman particularly appreciated. He wrote his close friend, fellow Impressionist painter J. Alden Weir: “Never is nature more lovely than when it is snowing.  Everything is so quiet and the whole earth seem [sic] wrapped in a mantle.” [2]

The style
By the late 1890s, critics noted changes in Twachtman’s work, including the abstract order of his compositions and increasingly expressionistic brushwork. [3] The writer for the New York Sun viewed Hemlock Pool as a demonstration of Twachtman’s change in style, noting that although it was an oft-treated subject, “one already notices a ripening of tone and increasing coherence of effect.” [4]

At the Armory Show
Hemlock Pool was lent to the Armory Show by the prominent American collector John Gellatly and was one of two paintings by Twachtman exhibited. His work was hung in Gallery P, one of the retrospective galleries, along side other American masters like Theodore Robinson and James Abbott McNeill Whistler. Twachtman’s reputation was established by 1913 and it is not surprising that the painting was well received by critics, who called it the “most poignantly beautiful of all of his spiritualized landscapes.” [5]

[1] Lisa N. Peters, John Henry Twachtman: An American Impressionist, exh. cat. (Atlanta: High Museum of Art, 1999), 111.

[2] Twachtman to Julian Alden Weir, December 16, 1891, quoted in Kathleen Pyne, “John Twachtman and the Therapeutic Landscape,” in John Twachtman: Connecticut Landscapes, Deborah Chotener, Lisa N. Peters, Kathleen A. Pyne, eds., exh. cat. (Washington: National Gallery of Art, 1989), 53.

[3] Peters, 131.

[4] “Around the Galleries,” The Sun (New York), March 6, 1901, 6.

[5] Charles H. Caffin, “International Still Stirs the Public,” New York American, March 10, 1913, 8.

John H. Twachtman (1853-1902)

The American Impressionist John Henry Twachtman was born in Cincinnati in 1853 and trained at the Munich Royal Academy and in Paris, at the Académie Julian. [1] He returned to the United States in the winter of 1885-86 and in 1890-91 he purchased a house situated on seventeen acres in Greenwich, Connecticut. [2] Nature was Twachtman’s chief inspiration, and this rural setting was essential to his creative process. [3]

Twachtman’s aesthetic evolved significantly over the course of his career.  His early training in Munich had emphasized a dark palette and rich brushwork reminiscent of the Old Masters. [4]  In Paris he was inspired by Jules Bastien-Lepage, who synthesized pleinairism and studio practice, and by Japanese prints combined with the quiet tonalities of James Abbott McNeill Whistler. [5]  In Greenwich in the 1890s Twachtman’s work became increasingly impressionistic but retained a deeply personal interpretation of the French style. [6] He would have seen French Impressionist paintings in New York galleries, however his friendship with Theodore Robinson, who had studied with Claude Monet in Giverny, France, provided a stronger link to the French masters. [7] Like Monet, Twachtman repeatedly painted key sites on his property, but he was not as interested as Monet in optical effects. Instead, he slightly varied his viewpoints of familiar sites in order to a capture a fresh perspective on the scene. [8]  Like the French Impressionists, Twachtman did paint en plein air, but he often finished his works in the studio. [9]

Twachtman also had an important legacy as a teacher, particularly at the Art Students League in New York, where he taught from 1889 until his death in 1902. [10] He encouraged his students to avoid the literal transcription of nature and eliminate excess detail and hackneyed academic formulas. [11] Though he died in 1902, eleven years before the Armory Show, the organizers of the exhibition recognized him as an important artist whose work had contributed to the development of American modernism.

[1] Richard J. Boyle.  John Twachtman (New York: Watson Guptill, 1979), 13-15.

[2] Lisa N. Peters, John Henry Twachtman: An American Impressionist, exh. cat. (Atlanta: High Museum of Art, 1999), 97.

[3] Kathleen Pyne, “John Twachtman and the Therapeutic Landscape,” in John Twachtman: Connecticut Landscapes, Deborah Chotener, Lisa N. Peters, Kathleen A. Pyne, eds., exh. cat. (Washington: National Gallery of Art, 1989), 53.

[4] Boyle, 13.

[5] Ibid., 15-16.

[6] Ibid., 17.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Peters, 114.

[9] Ibid., 113.

[10] Ibid., 109.

[11] Ibid., 107.

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