Willard Metcalf, American Impressionist 2

Willard Metcalf (1858–1925), Midsummer Shadow (1911), oil on canvas, dimensions not known, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT. Wikimedia Commons.

In the first of these two articles about the life and paintings of Willard Leroy Metcalf (1858–1925), I traced them into the early years of the twentieth century, when he was an Impressionist who was a founder member of The Ten American Painters in 1897. With his newly-found lightness and the encouragement of Childe Hassam, he started spending the summer in the historic town of Old Lyme, on the coast of Connecticut.

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Willard Metcalf (1858–1925), Early Autumn (1905), oil on canvas, dimensions not known, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT. Wikimedia Commons.

Early Autumn from 1905 is a good example of his fresh new style, which brought him increasing success at last. He taught, and exhibited in New York and Boston.

May Night
Willard Metcalf (1858–1925), May Night (1906), oil on canvas, 99.5 × 91.7 cm, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. Wikimedia Commons.

During the early part of his summer stay in 1906, he painted this unusual nocturne of the Florence Griswold House in Old Lyme, May Night. The following year, he was awarded the Corcoran Gold Medal for this. Florence Griswold (1850-1937) hosted an artists’ colony, and her house is now a museum containing the largest public collection of Metcalf’s paintings. The artists’ colony had started in 1899, with many of the painters being provided with lodgings in Florence Griswold’s house. Childe Hassam first visited in 1903.

Willard Metcalf (1858–1925), Dogwood Blossoms (1906), oil on canvas, dimensions not known, Florence Griswold Museum, Old Lyme, CT. Wikimedia Commons.

Dogwood Blossoms (1906) is a marvellous exploration of the shimmering effects of dappled light, and how it can break the forms of large boulders.

Willard Metcalf (1858–1925), A Family of Birches (1907), oil on canvas, 73.7 x 66 cm, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC. Wikimedia Commons.

A Family of Birches (1907) is a more traditionally Impressionist landscape.

In 1909, Metcalf was invited to spend the winter in Plainfield, New Hampshire, and for the following eleven years or so continued to visit the Cornish Art Colony there, mainly out of season when it was quieter. In 1911, he married his second wife, Henriette Alice McCrea-Metcalf, a translator.

Willard Metcalf (1858–1925), Midsummer Shadow (1911), oil on canvas, dimensions not known, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT. Wikimedia Commons.

Metcalf’s Midsummer Shadow from 1911 is a scene of gentle rural dilapidation with an unusually strong perspective recession. The old painted signs at the right add splashes of contrasting colour. As with most of his paintings, he uses a near-square canvas, rather than the more panoramic canvases which were often preferred by landscape painters.

Willard Metcalf (1858–1925), The Winter’s Festival (1913), oil on canvas, 66 × 73.6 cm, De Young Museum, San Francisco, CA. Wikimedia Commons.

Late in his career, and presumably mainly from his wintertime visits to New Hampshire, Metcalf painted several snowscapes. The Winter’s Festival from 1913 is particularly evocative of those grey and murky days in which there is little tonal contrast.

In 1913, Metcalf returned to Europe, where he visited Paris, Italy, Norway, and Britain over a period of nine months. From his paintings of this journey, I show two, both of the small town Pelago, in the hills about twenty kilometres (twelve miles) to the east of Florence.

Willard Metcalf (1858–1925), Pelago – Tuscany (1913), oil on canvas, 66.6 × 74.2 cm, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY. Wikimedia Commons.

Pelago – Tuscany (1913) shows the old town perched on a promontory amidst the Tuscan hills.

Willard Metcalf (1858–1925), Hillside Dwellings, Pelago, Italy (c 1914), oil and canvas, dimensions not known, El Paso Museum of Art, El Paso, TX. Wikimedia Commons.

Hillside Dwellings, Pelago, Italy (c 1914) is a view looking back and up, from the bridge over the river below the town.

Although there were many French and American Impressionists represented at The Armory Show in New York in 1913, Metcalf’s name is conspicuously absent from the exhbitors, and I can’t see why he was excluded. Those listed include his friend Childe Hassam, John Henry Twatchman and Julian Alden Weir – the other major American Impressionists of the day.

The Armory Show may have included many Impressionist works, but was the harbinger of its succession by post-Impressionist styles such as Cubism. By this time, the American Impressionists appeared to be increasingly old-fashioned as the modern came rushing on. The Ten were considered by the critics to have served their time, and had now become part of the past.

Willard Metcalf (1858–1925), My Wife and Daughter (1917-18), further details not known. Wikimedia Commons.

In 1917-18, towards the end of the Great War, Metcalf painted this domestic scene of My Wife and Daughter. This is Henriette, his second wife whom he married in 1911, with what I believe is their first daughter.

Sadly, Metcalf and his second wife separated in 1920, and for a while he drank rather more than he painted. But by 1922, he recovered and started work again in the countryside of Vermont.

Willard Metcalf (1858–1925), Indian Summer, Vermont (1922), oil on canvas, 127.6 x 152.7 cm, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX. Wikimedia Commons.

Indian Summer, Vermont (1922) shows the deeply rural landscape in early autumn, with the approach of Fall, in unusually fine conditions.

Willard Metcalf (1858–1925), Hillside Pastures — September (1922), oil on canvas, 66 x 73.3 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY. Wikimedia Commons.

Hillside Pastures — September (1922) appears to be another view of the Vermont countryside, this time most probably painted in front of the motif.

Metcalf died of a heart attack in New York City on 6 March 1925, at the age of 66.

Neither the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, which houses the world’s greatest collection of Impressionist paintings, nor London’s Tate Gallery has a single painting by Willard Metcalf.