John Henry Twachtman (1853–1902)

One of the leading American Impressionists and a member of the “Ten American Painters” group

By Alexandra A. Jopp

Reflecting a true individualism in painting, John Henry Twachtman’s style formed the core of a new American Impressionism.

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

I. Biography

John Henry Twachtman, a member of the successful exhibiting group known as the “Ten American Painters,” was best known for his Impressionist seasonal landscapes. His style varied widely throughout his career, to the point that essayist M. Therese Southgate described him as “a man of many moods” who “especially liked the mysterious in nature: the full moon, clouds, fog, snow, the country, isolation.”1

Twachtman’s early style reflected the influence of Frank Duveneck (1848-1919), an American realist painter, and the Munich school. He studied in his birthplace of Cincinnati at the Ohio Mechanics Institute and the McMicken School of Design. He sailed for Munich in 1875 and Paris in the early 1880s. He traveled widely while illustrating for Scribner's (1888-93), and he painted in Yellowstone Park in 1895. Most of his works as an adult, though, were painted at his home in Greenwich.

John Henry Twachtman’s parents, Frederick Twachtman and Sophia Droege left the economic depression and political instability of their native Germany to come to the United States in the late 1840s. They settled in Cincinnati, Ohio, in the neighborhood known as “Over-the-Rhine.” Twachtman’s father held several different jobs during his life, including policeman, carpenter, storekeeper and cabinetmaker. He was best known, however, as a decorator of window shades at the Breneman Brothers factory. John Henry joined him at the factory at the age of 14. Between working at the window shade factory and attending classes at the Ohio Mechanics Institute, Twachtman was able to convince his parents to let him study art more seriously. In 1871, he transferred to the McMicken School of Design, and in 1874, he met Frank Duveneck, who became his teacher and friend. In 1875, Duveneck took his talented student with him to Munich, a city of art and originality. That fall, Twachtman enrolled in the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. Here, he adopted the rich, painterly style often associated with Munich’s realism. In the spring of 1877, Twachtman went to Venice accompanied by Duveneck and William Merritt Chase (1849-1916). His Venetian works, painted en plein air, show a forceful realist manner that was more Munich than Venice. Applying heavy paste directly on canvas with virtuosity, Twachtman painted dramatic contrasts of light and dark, a method known as “dark impressionism.” Upon his return to the United States in the winter of 1878, Twachtman became engaged in the progressive art community, joining the Tile Club and participating in the first exhibition of the Society of American Artists in New York.
In 1880, Twachtman married Cincinnati native Martha Scudder (1858-1936), who was also an artist. Martha had studied at the School of Design and in Europe, and she had exhibited etchings before marrying. She abandoned her artistic career, though, to devote herself to her family. The couple had two children: a daughter, Marjorie, who was born in Paris, and a son, J. Alden Twachtman, who became a painter and architect.

From fall 1880 until December 1881, Twachtman traveled and worked in Europe, with extended stays in Holland and Italy. In 1883, he studied in Paris at the prestigious Académie Julian with Gustave Boulanger and Jules-Joseph Lefebvre. He concentrated on landscapes, and his French-period style was the opposite of his Munich approach. The works of European contemporaries affected his painting, and his style began moving toward a lighter palette, thinner layers and more thoughtfully organized compositions. He became less enamored of strong contrasts, depicting mildly lit scenes in which light green and silver gray dominated. He also began to work extensively in pastels.

Twachtman returned to the United States for good in 1887. He became one of the first art instructors in Cos Cob, a tiny Connecticut fishing village suburb of Greenwich, establishing summer art classes there in 1890 that attracted dozens of promising artists to the small community. He commuted to New York regularly, spending much of his time there working and socializing with fellow artists J. Alden Weir and Theodore Robinson. Starting in 1889, Twachtman lived and worked at his farm in Greenwich, near the Old Lyme art colony, but he spent the last few summers of his life in Gloucester, Mass., where he adopted a more impulsive approach, incorporating a brighter impressionistic style. In 1902, Twachtman died in Gloucester at the age of 49. The following year, the American Art Gallery in New York City auctioned 98 of his estate paintings for $16,610.2 Today, his works command strong prices at auction; notably, as cited on AskArt.com, in May of 2007, Twachtman’s Hemlocks brought a record-breaking amount of $600,000, drastically exceeding the pre-sale estimate of $250,000 to $350,000.

II. Chronology

1853: Born on Aug. 4 in Cincinnati, Ohio
1868: Enrolled at Ohio Mechanics Institute
1871: Transferred to McMicken School of Design (later renamed Art Academy of Cincinnati)
1874-75: Studied with Frank Duveneck privately
1875: Enrolled at Royal Academy in Munich
1877: Accompanied Duveneck and William Merritt Chase to Venice
1878: Returned to Cincinnati upon death of father
1879: Painted in New York and along East Coast; elected to membership in newly formed Society of American Artists in New York; exhibited for first time at National Academy of Design; met J. Alden Weir in New York; joined faculty of Women’s Art Association of Cincinnati.
1880: Sailed to Florence, Italy, in fall.
1881: Married Martha Scudder in Cincinnati.
1882: Birth of son J. Alden, named in honor of J. Alden Weir.
1883-85: Traveled to Paris and enrolled at Académie Julian, where he studied with Gustave Boulanger and Jules-Joseph Lefèbvre; painted in French countryside, at Honfleur and Arques-la-Bataille, near Dieppe; met Theodore Robinson, Childe Hassam and Willard Metcalf in Paris; daughter Marjorie born in Paris; traveled to Venice.
1887 Crate of his paintings lost at sea in sinking of H.M.S. Oregon; returned permanently to the United States and continued to develop impressionist style
1888: Exhibited with “Painters in Pastel”; won Webb Prize for landscape, Society of American Artists
1889: Exhibited with J. Alden Weir
1889: Settled in Greenwich, Conn., farm house
1889: Began teaching at Art Students League of New York
1894-95: Joined faculty of Cooper Union, New York. Visited Buffalo to paint Niagara Falls on commission
1898: First exhibition by “Ten American Painters” at Durand-Ruel Galleries, New York City
1900: Exhibited with son, J. Alden, in two-man show at Cincinnati Art Museum
1902: Died in Gloucester, Mass., on Aug. 8

III. Collections

Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, Massachusetts
Allen Art Museum at Oberlin College, Ohio
Art Institute of Chicago
Brigham Young University Museum of Art, Utah
Brooklyn Museum, New York City
Brooklyn Museum/Luce Center for American Art, New York City
Butler Institute of American Art, Ohio
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Chazen Museum of Art at the University of Wisconsin
Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, Virginia
Cincinnati Art Museum, Ohio
Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio
Dayton Art Institute, Ohio
Detroit Institute of Arts, Michigan
Farnsworth Art Museum, Rockland, Maine
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
Harvard University Art Museums, Massachusetts
Hunter Museum of American Art, Tennessee
Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, University of Glasgow, Scotland
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indiana
Joslyn Art Museum, Nebraska
Maier Museum of Art at Randolph-Macon Woman's College, Virginia
Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, New York
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City
Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minnesota
Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C
New York Public Library Digital Gallery
Pomona College Museum of Art, California
Princeton University Art Museum, New Jersey
Reading Public Museum, Pennsylvania
San Diego Museum of Art, California
Seattle Art Museum
Sheldon Art Gallery, Lincoln, Nebraska
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C
Smithsonian Institution Art Inventories
Springfield Museum of Art, Ohio
Stark Museum of Art, Texas
Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago
The Phillips Collection, Washington D.C.
Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid
Tweed Museum of Art at the University of Minnesota, Duluth
Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Connecticut
Westmoreland Museum of American Art, Greensburg, Pennsylvania
Wichita Art Museum, Kansas

IV. Exhibitions

1878-79 Brooklyn Art Association (Venetian scenes)
1879, 1893-1902, 1906-09 (gold 1895) Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
1881-82, 1896-97 Boston Art Club
1884 Paris Salon
1888 Society of American Artists (prize)
1893 Colombian Expo, Chicago
1893 American Art Galleries, NYC
1893, 1898 St. Botolph Club, Boston
1879-98 National Academy of Design
1898 Durand -Ruel Galleries, NYC (First exhibition by Ten American Painters)
1899 Carnegie Institute (prize)
1901 Art Institute of Chicago (solo)
1901 Durand -Ruel Galleries, NYC
1904 Knoedler Galleries, NYC (memorial exhibition)
1913 Armory Show
1917 Lotos Club
1966, 1999 Cincinnati Art Museum (retrospective)
1984 Parrish Art Museum ("Painter-Etchers" exhibition)
1968, 1987 Spanierman Gallery, NYC

V. Memberships

Society of American Artists
Am. AC Munich
Ten American Painters
New York Etching Club
Tile Club
Player’s Club

VI. Notes

1: Shipp, Steve. American Art Colonies, 1850-1930: A Historical Guide to America’s Original Art Colonies and Their Artists (Westport, Conn., and London: Greenwood Press, 1996), 79.
2: Who Was Who in American Art 1564-1975 (Madison, Conn.: Sound View Press, 1999), p. 3356.

VII. Suggested Resources

Boyle, Richard J. John Twachtman. New York: Watson-Guptill, 1979.
Chotner, Deborah; Peters, Lisa N.; and Pyne, Kathleen A. John Twachtman: Connecticut Landscapes. Exh. cat. Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 1989.
Hale, John Douglass. The Life and Creative Development of John H. Twachtman. 2 vols. Ph.D. dissertation, Ohio State University, 1957. Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms International, 1958.
John Henry Twachtman, 1853-1902: An Exhibition of Paintings and Pastels. Exh. cat. New York: Spanierman Gallery, 1968.
Hale, John Douglass; Boyle, Richard J.; and Gerdts, William H. Twachtman in Gloucester: His Last Years, 1900-1902. Exh. cat. New York: Spanierman Gallery, 1987. Catalogue entries by Lisa N. Peters.
Peters, Lisa N. John Twachtman: American Impressionist. Exh. cat. Atlanta, Ga.: High Museum of Art, 1999.
Peters, Lisa N.; Hale, John Douglass; Gerdts, William H.; and Boyle, Richard J. In the Sunlight: The Floral and Figurative Art of J. H. Twachtman. Exh. cat. New York: Spanierman Gallery, 1989. Catalogue entries by Lisa N. Peters.

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