American Impressionism: The Hoosier Group (T.C. Steele, Richard Gruelle, William Forsyth, John Ottis Adams and Otto Stark)

21 Jan

John Ottis Adams, In Poppyland (1901)

Note: click on any image to enlarge

As I mentioned in earlier posts, American Impressionism took root in America in the late 19th Century, around ten to twenty years after its unofficial birth in France.  The American brand of Impressionism flourished in informal groups of like-minded artists and was frequently carried on in art colonies, located principally on the East and West Coasts of the United States, in Western Canada, and in the Midwestern United States.  The so-called “Hoosier Group,” with T.C. Steele as its most prominent member, was one such group.

John Ottis Adams, Iridescence of a Shallow Stream (1902)

John Ottis Adams, Hollyhocks and Poppies (date unknown)

I live in the Chicago suburbs now, but I’m originally from Southern Indiana — so I’m partial to the work of the Hoosier Group:  T.C. Steele, Richard Gruelle, William Forsyth, John Ottis Adams and Otto Stark. Steele essentially founded the art colony in Brown County, Indiana (near Nashville, about a half hour southeast of Bloomington) and his home and studio there are Indiana historical landmarks.  Artists still flock there.  In fact large patches of Southern Indiana feature beautiful wooded foothills, clear creeks, caves, covered bridges, small towns and seemingly-untouched flora and fauna that are virtually irresistible to painters — especially Impressionists.  Have you ever been to Greencastle, Bloomington, Shoals, Loogootee, Bean Blossom, Gnaw Bone or Nashville?  Go!

By the way, for all you non-Hoosiers, here’s an Indiana trivia question: what is the local Indiana pronunciation of “Loogootee?”  Be the first to post the correct answer and win the canned ham.

T.C. Steele, Selma in the Garden (c. 1912-24)

T.C. Steele, North Slope Vista (1924)

T.C. Steele, Winter in the Ravine (1912)

T.C. Steele, Women On the Porch (1899)

T.C. Steele enjoys most of the notoriety in the Hoosier Group, but the other members are great, too.   All of the members of the Group received European training, with the exception of Richard Gruelle.  Gruelle was an Indiana native son all the way, and none the worse for it!  Adams and Steele remind me of William Merritt Chase.  Forsyth seems to channel Tom Thomson.  Gruelle’s and Stark’s work feels Barbizon School to me.

Richard Gruelle, Canal, Morning Effect (1894)

Richard Gruelle, Toward the Close of Day in Autumn (date unknown)

William Forsyth, Winding Stream (date unknown)

William Forsyth, Ohio River Scene (date unknown)

William Forsyth, The Creek in Spring (date unknown)

I haven’t studied this in any great depth, but some of the landscapes of Tom Thomson, John Henry Twachtman, Thomas Anshutz, William Forsyth and Robert Henri have a distinct look in common that I can’t quite put my finger on.  I think it’s a combination of a liberal application of paint; longer, looser, bigger and more visible brush strokes than those used by most Impressionists; a slightly more subdued color palette compared with most Impressionists, but not so subdued as the Barbizon School; a slight collapsing of the depth of field, but not so much as to lose the third dimension (Cezanne?); and a simple, well-ordered compositional style reflecting an Asian influence — also reflected in the Arts and Crafts movement in the United States.

These are just my random thoughts.  I’ve been puzzling over these sorts of paintings for quite awhile because I just love the vibe of them and the overall style seems almost sui generis.  If anybody else has thoughts or knows the answer, please let me know!  Setting aside all the reflection and analysis, don’t you just love all these?  Many people I talk to never realized the scope and quality of Impressionism that went on here in America in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries — especially in the Midwest.  These paintings make me want to take another trip to Southern Indiana!

Otto Stark, Landscape With Two Figures and Shanties (1924)

Otto Stark, The Hollyhocks (1895)

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4 Responses to “American Impressionism: The Hoosier Group (T.C. Steele, Richard Gruelle, William Forsyth, John Ottis Adams and Otto Stark)”

  1. Mark January 21, 2012 at 3:57 pm #

    These paintings are great, Robert. As a southern Indiana boy myself, I recognize the types of landscape they represent, but it has an idealized, kind of dreamy quality, no?

    And it’s luh-GO-tee. I’ll pick up the ham when I see you next.

    • bobbalouie January 21, 2012 at 7:38 pm #

      I agree — that’s Impressionism! Actually sometimes nature lives up to the ideal. Maybe a few minutes a day, a few days a year?

      Okay, you win the ham. As you know, there’s nothing better than canned ham.

      • mark January 23, 2012 at 4:35 am #

        You’re right, nature does live up to the ideal fairly often, in fact. The views at Gethsemani that sunny day in October, for instance.

  2. abstract art August 1, 2012 at 2:18 am #

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