Art Wednesday: John Leslie Breck, American Impressionist Painter

Garden at Giverny (In the Garden of Monet) c. 1887 Oil on canvas, 46 x 56 cm Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago

Garden at Giverny (In the Garden of Monet)
c. 1887
Oil on canvas, 46 x 56 cm
Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago

John Leslie Breck (b. 1860, at South Pacific, d. 1899, Boston) was one of the first Americans to settle in Giverny with Louis Ritter (1852-1896), Willard Leroy Metcalf (1858-1925) Blair Bruce (1859-1906), Henry Fitch Taylor (1853-1925), Theodore Robinson (1852-1896) and Thedore Wendel (1859-1932). He was invited by Dawson Dawson-Watson (1864-1939), the British born Impressionist painter to live in Giverny, the spring after the founding of the famous Impressionist colony there.

Breck is considered the American painter responsible for introducing a new style of Impressionist painting to the United States in 1890. He was a landscape painter who absorbed both the formal aspects of Dutch Masters and also the Impressionist style and techniques of Claude Monet. The atmospheric perspective and vibrant colors seen in his landscapes of Massachusetts, Giverny, and Venice demonstrate his great talent as a landscape artist.

Garden at Giverny 1890 Oil on canvas, 46 x 56 cm Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago In 1887 a small group of North American artists — John Leslie Breck, William Blair Bruce, Willard Metcalf, Louis Ritter, Theodore Robinson, Henry Fitch Taylor, and Theodore Wendel — settled in Giverny for the summer season. Some appear to have been previously unaware of Monet's presence in the village, but at least two of them, Robinson and Metcalf, had visited during earlier summers. They set up their easels along the streams or on the hillside and became acquainted with their newly adopted village from a distance. At first they avoided depicting the village itself, preferring more familiar landscape motifs. Gradually, artists in Giverny began to experiment with Impressionism, inspired by Monet and also by the region's dramatic light. Within a few years, many began to employ the more luminous, high-keyed palette and looser brushwork characteristic of impressionism.

Garden at Giverny
1890
Oil on canvas, 46 x 56 cm
Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago
In 1887 a small group of North American artists — John Leslie Breck, William Blair Bruce, Willard Metcalf, Louis Ritter, Theodore Robinson, Henry Fitch Taylor, and Theodore Wendel — settled in Giverny for the summer season. Some appear to have been previously unaware of Monet’s presence in the village, but at least two of them, Robinson and Metcalf, had visited during earlier summers. They set up their easels along the streams or on the hillside and became acquainted with their newly adopted village from a distance. At first they avoided depicting the village itself, preferring more familiar landscape motifs. Gradually, artists in Giverny began to experiment with Impressionism, inspired by Monet and also by the region’s dramatic light. Within a few years, many began to employ the more luminous, high-keyed palette and looser brushwork characteristic of impressionism.

The son of a naval officer, Breck was born at sea (off the coast of Guam) and grew up in Massachusetts. He displayed early promise as an artist, and at the age of 18 left to study in Europe, first in Munich, and later in Paris, at the Académie Julian. His exposure to the light-filled landscape and brilliant skies of Giverny encouraged him to abandon the more somber mode of painting he developed in Munich, and to adopt an impressionistic approach. His pioneering vision, as demonstrated in his atmospheric and vibrantly colourful scenes of Giverny, Venice, and elsewhere, as well as his native Massachusetts, earned him the title “the father of American Impressionism.”

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