Theodore Robinson


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Painter. An impressionist, he numbers among the American movement's earliest, most knowledgeable, and most influential exponents. In forming his personal style, he augmented structured compositions reflecting academic training with French impressionism's spontaneous brushwork and atmospheric concerns. Robinson preferred subtle and muted color harmonies, which lend to some canvases a pensive mood suggestive of tonalism. Monet's impact on his work was particularly strong during the several years that Robinson resided during warmer months next door to the French painter's home in Giverny. There Robinson often recorded the local landscape, but after his permanent return to the United States in December 1892 he determined to emphasize the particularity of American subjects. Many of these later paintings depict individually recognizable rural views, but he addressed urban scenes as well. Throughout his career, he also painted figure studies, as well as a few portraits. He shared in the late nineteenth century's general enthusiasm for Japanese art but differed from most contemporary painters by regularly taking photographs as “sketches” for figure paintings. Three years after Theodore Pierson Robinson's birth in Irasburg, Vermont, his family left for Illinois. In 1856 they moved to southern Wisconsin, where he grew up in Evansville. After brief initial studies in Chicago, in 1874 Robinson continued his training during two years at the National Academy of Design, where Lemuel Everett Wilmarth numbered among his principal instructors. In 1875, while still enrolled at the academy, Robinson helped to organize the Art Students League. The following year, he began studies in Paris, where he worked with Émile-Auguste Carolus-Duran and Jean-Léon Gérôme. During an 1877 summer visit to Grez-sur-Loing, a popular artists' destination in the Barbizon region, he began painting outdoors. Following an extended stay in Venice, where he spent some weeks in the company of James Abbott McNeill Whistler, he returned to the United States toward the end of 1879. Soon resettled in New York to continue painting, during the next several years he also wrote art criticism and worked on decorative projects with John La Farge and others. In the spring of 1884 he again left for Paris. During the following eight years, broken by several visits to the United States, he spent more and more time in the French countryside. At first returning to the Barbizon area, he combined figures, often peasants or craftsmen, and landscape in increasingly fluid and painterly scenes. Evidence suggests that he may have first met Monet, later a lifelong friend, in Giverny in 1885. As he sojourned for several months in the village in 1887 and returned each year through 1892, his brushwork responded to Monet's approach. Among several Seine valley overviews from a site above Giverny, A Bird's Eye View (Metropolitan Museum, 1889) characteristically combines architectonic design with broken colors, here applied in a pearly scheme dominated by lavenders and pale greens. Robinson's attention to the geometry of the village houses suggests Cézanne's more inherently structural approach, but the work's decorative serenity typifies his own sensibility. During his final years in New York, Robinson continued his practice of finding most subjects outside the metropolis, primarily at locations in New York State and New England. An 1894 visit to Cos Cob, Connecticut, produced a notable series of shore scenes, including some of his most brilliantly colored and abstractly composed images. Never in robust health, Robinson died in New York before his forty-fourth birthday.


Subjects: Art.

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