Edmund W. Greacen (1876–1949)

American impressionist specializing in landscape scenes, particularly Northeastern seascapes

By Kate Amundsen

By painting in a French-influenced style, Greacen became one of the most treasured American impressionists.

I. Biography
II. Chronology
III. Collections
IV. Exhibitions
V. Memberships
VI. Notes
VII. Suggested Resources

I. Biography

Edmund William Greacen was born in New York to Scottish-immigrant parents in 1876. His father was an entrepreneur in the shoe business, and his work ethic would greatly influence Greacen. After graduating from New York University in 1894, Greacen was sent on a shoe-selling cruise around the world by his father, which allowed him to avoid serving in the Spanish-American War. This travel experience to exotic locales allowed Greacen to sketch various landscapes. After following his instructor William Merritt Chase to Spain in 1905, Greacen spent the years 1907–1909 at the artist colony in Giverny, France where he learned the impressionist technique. In 1909, Greacen returned home to the United States and joined a colony of American impressionists in Old Lyme, Connecticut. The Lyme Art Colony, centered around Florence Griswold’s home, attracted artists during this period because of the inspiring local scenery. Also, the colony emitted a similar ambience that of Giverny, which Greacen had so admired.[1]

Primarily known as an impressionist, Greacen was also considered a tonalist, a term used to describe the American derivations of the French Barbizon style. Tonalist painting, in which temperament and shadow are emphasized, was led largely by George Inness and James McNeill Whistler. Greacen employed multiple methods, including traditional easel painting as well as plein-air painting to capture natural light, a very common practice among impressionists. This assisted him in capturing the essence of a fleeting moment, one of the primary goals of movement. Although he also painted in studio, it was usually only when he was in New York and not able to visit the seascapes and landscapes which were his primary source of inspiration. As an oil painter, Greacen favored pastel hues, either vibrant or very muted, and light brushstrokes to capture his varied subjects, which included architecture, figures, and female portraits. Yet his main focus was on landscapes, and especially seascapes, off the coast of the northeast. He also painted outside of the region during his travels, which in addition to Europe included Bermuda.

In 1922, Greacen, with fellow impressionists John Singer Sargent and Walter Leighton Clark, established the Painters and Sculptors Gallery Association, an artist’s cooperative. In 1923, he was a founding member of the Grand Central School of Art, which he headed for twenty years, and the Grand Central Art Galleries, both in New York. He was elected an Associate Member of the National Academy of Design in 1917, and in 1935 gained full membership as an Academician. A one-man show at the reputable Macbeth Gallery in New York in 1922 was one of the highlights of his career.

In the last twelve years of his life, Greacen suffered a series of strokes which would limit his ability to create, both mentally and physically. After his commitments to the Grand Central School of Art ended in 1944, he moved his family to Florida where he would reside until his death.[2]

II. Chronology

1876 Born in 1876, the year of the great Philadelphia Centennial Exposition
1894 Attended New York University
1898 Sold shoes for father on world cruise, avoided service in Spanish-American War
1899 Enrolled in the Art Student's League, where he studied with William Merritt Chase
1904 Married Ethol Booth, who would become the model for many of his portraits and figures
1907 Settled with his family in a small house in Giverny, France and became good friends with Monet’s son-in-law, Theodore Earl Butler, and his wife, Marthe Hoschedé Butler
1908 Returned to New York with his family
1909 National Arts Club, started Manhattan School of Art, begins exhibiting in New York
1909 Joined Old Lyme Artist Colony in Connecticut
1922 Exhibited at Macbeth Gallery
1922 Greacen, Sargent and Clark establish Painters and Sculptors Gallery
1924 Founded the Grand Central Art School
1937 Suffered the first of a series of strokes
1944 Moved with family to the Gulf Coast of Florida
1949 Died at age seventy-three in White Plains, New York

III. Collections

Butler Institute of American Art, OH
Delaware Museum of Art, DE
Florence Griswold Museum, CT
Lyman Allyn Museum, CT
Pfeil Collection-Impressionists
The Columbus Museum, GA
The Cummer Museum Of Art & Gardens, FL
The Marshall Collection
The Newark Museum, NJ

IV. Exhibitions

1906–1909 Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia
1911 Folsom Gallery, New York (solo show)
1912, 1919 Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
1914 Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, Ohio (solo show)
1922 Macbeth Gallery, New York (solo show)
1972 The Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, Jacksonville, Florida (retrospective)

V. Memberships

American Artists Professional League
American Water Color Society, Painters in Water Color
Grand Central Art Galleries
Painters and Sculptors Gallery Association
Salmagundi Club
Society of Independent Artists
The Grand Central School of Art, New York City, directed by Greacen
The National Academy of Design
The National Arts Club, the Manhattan School of Art

VI. Notes

1. Peter Hastings Falk, Who Was Who in American Art: 1564–1975 (New York: Marquis Who’s Who, 1999), 529.
2. Ronald J. Pisano, Students of William Merritt Chase (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1973), 44–6.

VII. Suggested Readings

Boyle, Richard. American Impressionism. New York Graphic Society, Boston, 1974.

Edmund W. Greacen papers, 1905-1949. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

Falk, Peter Hastings. Who Was Who in American Art: 1564–1975. New York: Marquis Who’s Who, 2011.

Gerdts, William H. American Impressionism. Seattle: Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington, Seattle, 1980.

Pisano, Ronald J. Students of William Merritt Chase. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1973.

Shipp, Steve. American Art Colonies, 1850–1930: A Historical Guide to America's Original Art Colonies and Their Artists. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1996.

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