The influence of impressionism in American painting

The influence of impressionism in American painting

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  • The return of the herd.

    PEARCE Charles Sprague (1851 - 1914)

  • The grove.

    MELCHERS Gari Julius (1860 - 1932)

  • Morning light or Morning light.

    SCHOFIELD Walter Elmer (1866 - 1914)

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

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Title: The grove.

Author : MELCHERS Gari Julius (1860 - 1932)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 167 - Width 111

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas On deposit at the National Museum of Franco-American Cooperation in Blérancourt.

Storage location: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot website

Picture reference: 91-000753 / RF1980-139

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

To close

Title: Morning light or Morning light.

Author : SCHOFIELD Walter Elmer (1866 - 1914)

Creation date : 1922

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 101.5 - Width 122

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas On deposit at the National Museum of Franco-American Cooperation in Blérancourt.

Storage location: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

Picture reference: 91-000756 / RF1980-163

Morning light or Morning light.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

Publication date: April 2007

Historical context

In the second half of the XIXe century, France gladly welcomes the many American artists who come to complete their training in the workshops of the greatest painters of the time.
Born in Boston in 1851, Charles Sprague Pearce came to Paris in 1873 to study painting. He is very active in Franco-American artistic circles: member of the jury of the Fine Arts section at the 1889 Universal Exhibition in Paris, he is also one of the founding elements and vice-president of the influential Paris Society of American Painters. In 1885, he settled permanently in Auvers-sur-Oise, where he died in 1914.
Born in 1860 in Detroit, Michigan, to parents of Dutch origin, Gari Julius Melchers, meanwhile, studied art in Europe, first at the Royal Academy in Düsseldorf where he was a pupil of Karl von Gebhardt and Peter Janssen, then in Paris, at the Académie Julian, where he followed the teaching of Jules Lefebvre and Gustave Boulanger. In the last two decades of the XIXe century, it is especially noted for its monumental paintings devoted to the peasant world. It was only at the end of a long stay in Holland, at the beginning of the XXe century, that it fell under the influence of the Impressionists. In 1916, he moved to Fredericksburg, Virginia, where his painting surprised his compatriots: indeed, the great majority of artists from the southern United States remained aloof from the Impressionist movement.
Born in Philadelphia in 1867, Walter Elmer Schofield studied in his hometown, then at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, before also coming to Paris. He remains famous for his winter landscapes dominated by blues, painted in England and Pennsylvania.

Image Analysis

Charles Sprague Pearce was probably one of the most productive and inspired American painters expatriated to Europe. Under the influence of Léon Bonnat (1833-1922) and Bastien-Lepage (1848-1884), he practiced a quality academicism which deeply marks his portraits and paintings. Like Jean-François Millet (1814-1875) or Charles-François Daubigny (1817-1878), he was also a painter of nature and rurality. Executed in the late 1880s, The return of the herd is part of this period when the artist, permanently installed in Auvers-sur-Oise, engages in rural naturalism. The theme of the lonely shepherdess - or shepherd - recurs frequently in his work. This painting is emblematic of this series and stands out for its imposing format and the mastery of its execution. The special quality of the light gives the work an almost religious tone.
Acquired by the French State in 1908 and deposited in the Musée du Luxembourg, The Grove, by Gari Julius Melchers clearly betrays the influence of the German painters Liebermann and von Uhde, and unquestionably falls within the artist's impressionist period. Mother and Child was obviously one of his favorite themes, as he worked on this subject from 1906 to 1913. Religious inspiration is not absent from the work: the composition of the Grove is practically identical to that of the Madonna executed by the artist circa 1906-1907 and kept at the Metropolitan Museum in New York.
As for Morning light, it is a dense and vibrant work that Walter Elmer Schofield created in his maturity. Purchased in 1923 by the Musée du Luxembourg, this painting testifies to the considerable influence that Impressionism had on American painting until the end of the 1920s.


In the second half of the 19th century, Paris was the artistic capital of the European continent: its academies, schools, workshops attracted many foreign painters and sculptors. The artistic colonies close to the capital - Barbizon, Auvers-sur-Oise, Giverny, Grez-sur-Loing -, those of Honfleur in Normandy, Pont-Aven in Brittany, gladly welcome painters of foreign origin. When they could not follow the courses of the prestigious Ecole des Beaux-Arts - reformed in 1863, but inaccessible to women until 1897 -, American artists worked in private workshops under the direction of painters like Léon Bonnat (1833-1922 ), Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904) or Carolus-Duran (1838-1917), or enroll in the Académie Julian, created in 1868. Unable to access the Prix de Rome, reserved for French artists, painters Americans regularly exhibit at the Salon where the State makes numerous acquisitions for the Luxembourg Museum. Therefore The Grove, by Gari Julius Melchers, or Morning light, by Walter Elmer Schofield, will enrich the collections of this museum dedicated to living artists. Many American painters stayed in artist communities, in Barbizon, Auvers-sur-Oise, Pont-Aven or Giverny, where they discovered open-air painting. Their interpretation of Impressionism echoes scenes from everyday rural and urban life, or the theme of water in its relationship to light. Thus, in 1885, Charles Sprague Pearce settled permanently in Auvers-sur-Oise. In 1872, Mary Cassat (1845-1926), painter, engraver, pastellist, American designer, settled in Paris. Close to Edouard Manet (1832-1883) and Edgar Degas (1834-1917), she exhibited with the Impressionist group. At the start of the 20th century, it was a veritable American colony that revolved around Claude Monet (1840-1926) in Giverny. All these painters from the New World contributed greatly to spreading Impressionism in the United States.

  • impressionism
  • United States
  • rural life
  • campaign
  • barbizon (school of)


William GERDTS, American Impressionism, New York, 1984.Henriette LEWIS-HIND, Gari Melchers, Painter, New York, 1928.Mary LUBLINA, Rare Elegance, The Paintings of Charles Sprague Pearces (1851-1914), New York, 1993. Michael QUICK, American Expatriate Painters of the Late Nineteenth Century, Dayton, 1976.Gérald SCHURR, The little masters of painting 1820-1920, value of tomorrow, Les Editions de l'Amateur, tome IV, Paris, 1979.

To cite this article

Alain GALOIN, "The influence of impressionism in American painting"


  • Barbizon School: Group of painters settled in Barbizon, in the forest of Fontainebleau, in the years 1840-50. They devote themselves mainly to landscape painting and herald Impressionism. The most famous are Camille Corot, Charles-François Daubigny, Jean-François Millet and Théodore Rousseau.

  • Video: American Landscape and the Influence of French Impressionism


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