An Impressionist in Greenwich

By the mid-to-late 1880s, American painter John Henry Twachtman was an accomplished and well-respected artist and, around 1889, had earned enough money to acquire a home and seventeen-acre tract in Greenwich, Connecticut. The charming, humble abode and sprawling property, full of gardens, trees, and streams, became the primary focus of his work throughout the remainder of his career. Ensconced in nature, he was able to study and paint various subject matter in different seasons, lights, and conditions.

“I feel more and more contented with the isolation of country life. To be isolated is a fine thing and we are all then nearer to nature. I can see how necessary it is to live always in the country—at all seasons of the year.” - John Henry Twachtman

Although Greenwich Garden is signed by Twachtman’s eldest son, John Alden, it is believed to be primarily the work of John Henry. The painting depicts the back of his home obscured by cascading flowers and vegetation, and evokes Japanese prints with its lack of recession and flat, superimposed forms. The brushstrokes, lines, and shapes used exhibit his touch, with the exception of the somewhat more mechanical clipped strokes of the leaves along the upper edge, which are in keeping with John Alden’s style and comparable to the few paintings of his that are known.

John Alden was also an artist; he studied at the Yale School of Art and the École des Beaux-Arts and later became an architect and mural painter. Lisa Peters has proposed that perhaps the elder Twachtman involved his son directly in the creation of the present work, even going so far as to allow him to sign it. It is also possible, however, that John Alden completed the piece after it was left unfinished when John Henry died suddenly of a brain aneurysm in 1902 at the age of 49. He is known to have completed other paintings by his father, thus the latter supposition seems more likely. John Alden kept the work in his private collection and it descended through the Twachtman family until 1990. An important example within his oeuvre, Greenwich Garden remains as a testament to John Henry’s Twachtman’s prodigious talent as an Impressionist painter and his unique ability to depict the very essence of his surroundings.

In my mind I have finer pictures than ever before. Ten thousand pictures come and go every day and those are the only complete pictures painted, pictures that shall never be polluted by paint and canvas.

John Henry Twachtman

John Henry Twachtman 1853–1902

Landscape painter John Henry Twachtman was one of the most original and modern artists of the late nineteenth century. Trained in Munich and Paris, and a member of the most advanced American artist groups of his day, Twachtman was at the forefront of the American avant-garde throughout his career. The work of his famous Greenwich Period was influenced by Impressionism and Tonalism, yet his stylistic synthesis was unique. Often compared with Claude Monet and James McNeill Whistler, Twachtman developed an experimental technique and explored innovative compositional means to create subtle and poetic images that anticipated directions in twentieth-century abstract painting.

Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, he studied at the School of Design at the Ohio Mechanics’ Institute prior to transferring to the McMicken School of Design in 1971, where his classmates included Kenyon Cox, Joseph DeCamp, and William Baer, among others. Frank Duveneck, however, became his most important contact during his time in Cincinnati, after Twachtman joined his evening class at the Mechanics’ Institute in 1874-75. Duveneck, who had spent years studying at the Munich Royal Academy, returned to Munich in 1875 with Twachtman in tow. Twachtman enrolled at the Munich Royal Academy that fall and studied under Ludwig von Loefftz.

In the spring of 1877, Twachtman joined Duveneck and William Merritt Chase in Venice, where he remained for approximately nine months before returning to American in 1878. He participated in the first exhibition of the Society of American Artists, which elected him to membership in 1880. Before getting married, he taught at the Women’s Art Association in Cincinnati and then spent some time in Italy, where he taught for a time at a school Duveneck had established there. After marrying artist Martha Scudder in 1881, the couple honeymooned in Europe and spent most of their time in Holland, where they painted in Dordrecht with fellow artists J. Alden Weir and his brother, John Ferguson.

Like so many other artists of his generation, Twachtman also studied in Paris; he traveled there in 1883 and continued his training at the Académie Julian under Gustave Boulanger and Jules-Joseph Lefebvre. His fellow students included American artists Childe Hassam, Willard Metcalf, Frank W. Benson, Edmund C. Tarbell, and Robert Ried. Influenced by his training as well as by the art of James McNeill Whistler, French pleinairiste Jules Bastein-Lepage, and by Japanese prints, his work changed during his French period; his palette remained low-key, but his tones became more closely modulated and his brushwork became fluid.

Following his return to American in 1886, Twachtman produced illustrations for Scribner’s from 1888 to 1893, and began teaching at the Arts Students League in 1889. This all provided him with the income to purchase a house and seventeen acres of land in Greenwich, Connecticut in 1890. During the 1890s, his Greenwich home, property, and gardens became the primary focus of his paintings. He continued his interest in soft tonal qualities, but adopted an Impressionist technique, with broken brushwork and colors blended directly on the canvas.

In 1897, Twachtman became a founding member of the Ten American Painters, a group of primarily Impressionist painters who broke from the Society of American Artists. He continued to teach at the Arts Students League and spent the summers of 1900 through 1902 with his old friend Duveneck in Gloucester, Massachusetts. One-man shows of his paintings and pastels were held in New York, Chicago, and Cincinnati in 1901. Tragically, Twachtman died suddenly in the summer of 1902 while in Gloucester. His friend Thomas Dewing mourned that with his death, “the world has lost an artist of the first rank...He is too modern, probably, to be fully recognized or appreciated at present: but his place will be recognized in the future”.

Twachtman’s works are in numerous important private and public collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Cincinnati Art Museum, Ohio, the National Museum of American Art, Washington D.C., the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Brooklyn Museum, New York, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and many others.

Auction Results John Henry Twachtman