As a longtime admirer of the paintings and philosophies of French Impressionism, I had often wondered (1) when its techniques had been first taught in America, (2) by whom and (3) at which school. I knew that Impressionism had began in Europe in the 1860s. However, I was surprised to discover that works by French impressionists were not exhibited to the American public until the 1880s.
My answers came in a roundabout manner. It began several years ago, when I received a complementary copy of the magazine, PleinAir
In the issue was a mention of artist Camille Przewodek and her beautiful light filled impressionist paintings. They captured my attention. I had to learn more about her palette, style and process.
On Ms. Przewodek’s website, I learned she had studied with a master colorist by the name of Henry Hensche of The Cape School of Art, Provincetown, Massachusetts. This was the first time I had heard of both Henry Hensche and the Cape School of Art. I was intrigued.
According to the Foundation, in the early days of the twentieth century Henry Hensche worked in the stock yards of Chicago to earn the money that would send him to The Art Institute of Chicago. There he studied drawing, painting, and figurative sculpture, eventually attending the National Academy of Fine Arts, the Art Student’s League of New York, and the Beaux Arts Institute of Design. But it was in 1919, in Provincetown, MA, at Charles Webster Hawthorne’s Cape Cod School of Art that Hensche found his inspiration.
Who was this Charles Webster Hawthorne, I asked myself.
Luckily, The Henry Hensche Foundation provided the answer. Charles Webster Hawthorne was an American portrait and genre painter and the teacher who founded the Cape Cod School of Art in 1899. At age 18, Hawthorne worked in New York as an office-boy by day in a stained-glass factory and studying at night school and with William Merritt Chase, and abroad in both the Netherlands and Italy.
Although I was familiar with the name of William Merritt Chase, I knew very little about him. I was inspired to learn more.
Further research revealed that William Merritt Chase lived from 1849-1916. He produced over 2,000 paintings and founded several art schools in his lifetime. As a young man, Chase enrolled at the National Academy of Design (NAD) after which he began to paint portraits and still life professionally to help support his family. Local businessmen took notice and funded a trip to Europe for the promising young artist. After spending a brief period in London and Paris, Chase traveled to Munich where he enrolled at the Royal Academy in 1872, learning tone values and tone painting. In 1878, Chase returned to America where he accepted a teaching position at the Art Students League in New York. He would go on to teach at the Brooklyn Art Association and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. In the summer of 1891, he opened his own Shinnecock School of Art, Long Island outdoor painting school which offered a summer program for artists.
In 1896 Charles Webster Hawthorne became assistant instructor to William Merritt Chase at his Shinnecock, Long Island school. According to The Hensche Foundation, that was where the lessons of the French Impressionists were first brought to American shores.
Ahah! I found the answers to my three questions: (1) French Impressionism was first taught in America in 1896, (2) by William Merritt Chase, (3) at Chase’s Shinnecock, Long Island outdoor painting school.
It gets even better…..
After Shinnecock, Chase’s most influential endeavor was his opening of the Chase School of Art in Manhattan, which would later become the parent institution of Parsons the New School for Design! Who knew!
But, back to Hawthorne…. In 1899 Charles Webster Hawthorne opened his own outdoor school in Provincetown, MA – the Cape Cod School of Art. By 1915 Provincetown became one of the largest art colonies in the world, attracting such luminaries as Childe Hassam, William Paxton, and Ernest Lawson. Artists who sought Hawthorne’s instruction included Emile Gruppe, Norman Rockwell, Max Bohm and Richard Miller. Yep – Norman Rockwell!
Hawthorne was an evangelist for a greater realization of color in realistic painting, inspiring students to infuse their paintings with color. However, it was his student, Henry Hensche who brought a complete transition from tone-based painting to paintings revealing the full spectrum of color – the philosophy behind French Impressionism.
The instruction timeline was now in place: Przewodek – Hensche – Hawthorne – Chase
What I found so inspiring is that these master painters are or were also master art instructors, generously sharing their wit, wisdom, observations and skills with their loyal students.
According to the Cape Cod School of Art, Hawthorne and Hensche are credited for keeping American Impressionism present in the United States. They embodied the single link between French and American Impressionism, even when the modern art movement began taking over realistic painting in the early 20th century. Because of Hawthorne and Hensche, American artists remained faithful to Impressionism’s artistic principles and philosophy, keeping it alive for generations to come and enjoy.
I hope you enjoyed this Art History 101 journey. You are welcome to subscribe to receive more.