About twenty-five WSU retirees went to see the stunning “American Impressionism” exhibit at the Dayton Art Institute on Wednesday, March 18, 2015. Docents guided us, giving information about American Impressionism and specific works from the roughly one hundred paintings and drawings on display. Afterward we had a delicious lunch in the Institute’s “Bistro” restaurant and discussed, among other things, our impressions of the impressionistic work.
While everyone has a favorite painting from the exhibit, Lois and Jay Thomas, Lew Shupe, Gary Barlow, Mary Gromosiak, and I agree that one of the most striking is “Booth Bay, Maine, 1902” by Edward Willis Redfield (1869-1965). Its subject is an ocean shore divided exactly in half by a tree in the foreground above the water. Someone suggested the painting would be better without the tree, while others felt it was essential to demonstrate the angle of the sunlight that is so much a part of Impressionism. One of the new directions of the movement was the tendency to paint en plein air as opposed to in a studio, and that is how the artist produced this piece. Another interesting fact about its creation is that Redfield was so strapped for cash that he could not afford the price of the ferry home, so he sold it in Booth Bay for $25.
I also liked “The Old Road to Deering, Massachusetts” by Chauncey Foster Ryder (1868-1949). Set in rural farmland in late fall, it is centered by a wide dirt road. As in many paintings in the exhibit, the road gives the feeling that as an observer you are walking right into the scene.
A painting by Frederick John Mulhaupt (1871-1938), “February Sun,” depicts a hill of barren winter trees and snow. A creek meanders through the lower part of the painting, and the dark water adds contrast and definition to the landscape. It reminds me of the work of Wright State artist David Leach.
While human subjects are prevalent, they are often painted in colors and strokes that blend them with the scenes around them. One of my favorites of this kind is Melville Stark’s “Pier No. 3, New Bedford.” Stark (1904-1987) pictures a fishing boat tied up to a pier and the hill on the opposite side of the harbor. I admired the piece for several minutes before noticing the one person in it—a fisherman. Painted with the same palette as his surroundings, he becomes a part of the boat, the water, and the whole scene to the point that he nearly disappears.
If you have not seen this exhibit yet, by all means go!