Theodore Robinson (1852–1896)
As one of the first, and most important, American Impressionists, Theodore Robinson helped to introduce the French style to American artists and audiences. His life was one of promise and influence that ended too soon, snuffed out by an asthma attack at the age of forty-three.
Robinson fully immersed himself in French painting, embracing the cosmopolitan current of fin-de-siècle art. After studying at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, he formed his Impressionist style at Giverny, alongside Claude Monet. In the 1880s, Monet was considered the leader of the French School, with Americans “flocking” to his home in Giverny. Robinson was one of the few artists to work closely with Monet; he stayed at the art colony regularly between 1887 and 1892 and collaborated with Monet on many works. Yet theirs was not a relationship divided between master and pupil: Robinson’s aesthetic developed in response to Monet’s, marked by both convergence and divergence. Even as Robinson adopted Monet’s vigorous handling and heightened surfaces, he remained faithful to the muted tones, solid construction, and volumetric realism of the American tradition.
These areas of divergence became more pronounced after Robinson returned to the United States in December of 1892, determined to reconnect with the American soil. As he adapted his French method to the landscape and art world of the United States, he developed an increasingly complex personal style—showing the beginnings of an evolution from Impressionism to abstraction.
During his time in America, Robinson helped to found the Art Students League and won the Webb and Shaw Prizes from the Society of American Artists. The Brooklyn Museum of Art held a major Robinson retrospective in 1946; the Baltimore Museum of Art mounted a traveling exhibition in 1973. His work is also in the White House, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the National Gallery of Art, as well as the Musée d’Art Américain Giverny.