Theodore Robinson

1852 - 1896

Gratz Gallery Outside

Theodore Robinson

A leading American Impressionist, Theodore Robinson was perhaps the most traditionally French in style. Originally from Wisconsin, he studied art in Chicago and New York before moving on to France for the better part of two decades. Arriving in 1876, he studied with Carolus Duran and Jean Leon Gerome. Duran was spontaneous, and one only has to see the work of John Singer Sargent to appreciate those qualities. On the other hand Gerome was meticulous, much like his American pupil Thomas Eakins. Robinson wanted to achieve both. He did this through pioneering use of photography, and well orchestrated, large-scale compositions. The subjects were a product of his rural American background, often relating the art of Winslow Homer, whose work he was known to have admired.

Robinson worked on both sides of the Atlantic until 1884 when he made France his primary residence. There he joined a group of six other artists who elected to spend their summers outside of Paris, in Giverny. Giverny had numerous attractions to the young artists: it was close to Paris, the scenery was delightful as it was located in a rural valley of the Seine, between Paris and the sea, and lastly it was home to Claude Monet. Monet was/is justly famous for his contributions to Impressionism, but was something of a recluse. Possibly dating to the negative reactions to his earliest and then most radical work, Monet did not encourage students to work around him.

The Americans were something of an exception, as in the mid to late 1880's Theodore Robinson, Theodore Wendel, Willard Metcalf, Louis Ritter, Henry Fitch Taylor, and a Canadian William Blair Bruce were actively working on Monet's backyard. Eventually yet another American, Theodore Butler married one of Monet's step-daughters. Of all of them the favorite was Robinson, and the closeness of the relationship is extensively documented in the surviving volumes of Robinson's diaries. Despite his mentor relationship with Monet, Robinson was slow to adopt the higher-keyed palette of the older artist, and continued to produce traditional peasant images. He was often likened to Jules Bastien-Lepage and Jean Francoise Millet. Ultimately what developed was an overlay of Impressionist color on an image of French working folk. Only when he returned to America in 1892 would his palette brighten significantly. Sadly he died four years later, cutting short one of America's brightest lights.

"Spinning" dates from the early French period, and shows the early Winslow Homer influence on the choice of subject matter. A hint of the future explosion of color is found in its fond treatment of the landscape in the background. It was considered to be important enough to be included in the landmark 1946 Brooklyn Museum exhibition catalog by John Baur, which re-introduced the works of Theodore Robinson to a new generation of museum goers and art historians. His paintings continue to be the focus of numerous museum exhibitions and catalogs.