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: The White Bridge by John Twachtman


Kathleen M. Bennewitz



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
It is no coincidence that John Twachtman's enchanting painting The White Bridge evokes the work of an earlier master, Claude Monet. Twachtman, born in Cincinnati in 1853, admired and frequently emulated the vibrant and luminous style of the older Frenchman, one of the founders of Impressionism. In February Twachtman's White Bridge and 42 other objects from the Institute's collection will be featured in "Made in America: Ten Centuries of American Art." The same consortium of Midwestern museums that created the superb 1991 show "Impressionism: Selections from Five American Museums" organized this exhibition.John Twachtman belonged to a circle of prominent American artists who borrowed their stylistic traits and painting methods—broken brushwork, a brightly colored palette, unconventional compositions, and rough, unfinished canvases—from French Impressionism. He and his colleagues depicted similar views of the city, countryside, and home but rarely created works reflecting the ills of modern industrial society. Like their French counterparts, American Impressionists enjoyed great success, and their work, which captured the fleeting, transient qualities of nature, was widely exhibited and collected well into the 20th century.The White Bridge, executed after 1895, is one of many paintings Twachtman made of the 17-acre New England farm he purchased in 1890. Located outside Greenwich, Connecticut, the property served as his home and painting studio. During the 1890s, Twachtman remodeled and expanded the original farmhouse to make it more comfortable for his family, adorning it with a classical portico designed by Stanford White, one of the architects of the Institute's original building. Like Monet, whom he knew personally, Twachtman transformed the grounds near the house into a garden embellished with such decorative structures as the white footbridge seen in the Institute's painting. The rural setting of the remaining property and the civilized accents of the garden captivated Twachtman and inspired him artistically until his death in 1902 at age 49.With Monet as his model, Twachtman repeatedly painted familiar subjects on his property—in different light, weather conditions, and seasons. In addition to views of his house and garden, the artist enjoyed painting Horseneck Brook, the stream traversing the farm. The Institute's painting features the bridge Twachtman constructed over a low section of the free-flowing brook. He made at least five paintings of this subject, each from a slightly different vantage point. In this version the footbridge is nestled within dense, lush foliage and lit by the clear light of late spring or early summer.Twachtman enjoyed painting outdoors, and like the French Impressionists he mixed paint directly on the canvas. Before completing a work in his studio, he probably returned repeatedly to the original site. Working alone on his property the artist was able to study carefully the subject, the atmospheric conditions, and most importantly, his emotional response to the landscape. The White Bridge conveys the profound serenity Twachtman achieved as he created art in the hushed silence of this natural setting; his use of subtle tones of soft greens and yellows and his flickering brushwork help evoke the "feeling" of the place and the hour. To John Twachtman the solitary contemplation of nature fostered an emotional transcendence. The paintings that resulted remove the viewer not only from the confines of self but also from the social pressures marking modern American life—then and now.Kathleen Motes Bennewitz is the Institute's education-materials writer.The White Bridge will be on view in the upcoming exhibition "Made in America: Ten Centuries of American Art," opening February 6, 1995.Related ImageThe White Bridge (1895) by John Twachtman (1853-1902). Gift of the Martin B. Koon Memorial Collection. The artist also designed the painting's gilded frame.
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Source: Kathleen Motes Bennewitz, "The White Bridge by John Twachtman," <i>Arts</i> 18, no. 1 (January 1995): 6.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009