In adoptions of impressionism in North, Central, and South America, an aesthetic that foregrounded the idea of newness both in subject matter and in facture, projections of the American continents as lacking history and tradition aligned with style. With its focus on an artist’s direct and immediate engagement with a motif and individual perception, the movement appeared to some critics as an artless style, grounded not only in “forgetting” artistic conventions but also in a perpetual sense of newness. For many critics and artists on both sides of the Atlantic, this naivete at the centre of Impressionist philosophy seemed well-suited for cultures that claimed to lack a past. This roundtable considers examples of American artists, broadly defined, and international critics who engaged with these ideas in writing and in art-making by building an immediacy or proposing instead a deep historical trajectory.
Organised by Professor Emily C. Burns (Director of the Charles M. Russell Center for the Study of Art of the American West at the University of Oklahoma) and Professor David Peters Corbett (Professor of American Art and Director of the Centre for American Art, The Courtauld) as part of the ‘Belatedness and North American Art’ series.
British Military Impressionism in the 18th and 19th Century Caribbean: The Timeless Aesthetic of Intimate and Ordinary Violence
Erica Moiah James, Assistant Professor of Art History, University of Miami
Many of the earliest representations of the Caribbean were completed by European painters trained in watercolour at British military academies such as Sandhurst and Woolwich. These soldier-artists were later deployed to desired or claimed colonial spaces to record what they saw in paintings that may now be seen simultaneously as military document and fine art. Small, intimate, fragile, uneven in quality and seemingly ordinary, this work has not demanded much attention in art history. This paper explores the degree to which these paintings theorize a military eye. It considers the ways in which this way of seeing imbricates with the indexicality of botanical illustration and aesthetic drag of Impressionism, as soldier-artists grappled with the sheer crackle of Caribbean light in service to their crowns. If key markers of the “military eye” also include the passive violence of the picturesque and the objective pose of the ordinary, how might a reconsideration of this work render anew the political contours of critical form? How might the known body of military painting of the Caribbean establish an iconography of the region that includes the manner of impressionistic representation itself, that has a temporal breath in the region that extends long before and long after the Impressionist school in Europe? What becomes visible once we untether an approach to image making from place and time, and see it as a conceptual idea to be deployed rather than possessed?
Erica Moiah James is an art historian, curator and assistant professor at The University of Miami. Her scholarship centers on indigenous, modern and contemporary art of the Caribbean and African Diaspora. Recent publications include “Decolonizing Time: Nineteenth Century Haitian Portraiture and the Critique of Anachronism in Caribbean Art,” (Nka, 2019); “Purvis Young: Nothing Left Unsaid,” (ICA, 2019) and “The Black Sublime: Rene Pena’s Archangel, 2018” (SX, 2019). In 2020 James received the Creative Time/Warhol Foundation Writers Grant and a Mellon Foundation Project Grant. She will curate ‘Didier William: Pictorial Moves of Revolution’ for Museum of Contemporary Art – North Miami in 2022.
Belated or Timeless? An American Impressionist Engagement with Eternity
Erica E. Hirshler, Croll Senior Curator of American Paintings, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
In the 1890s, several American practitioners of the impressionist style sought out some of the continent’s most iconic and national landscapes: Niagara Falls, Yellowstone, the Rocky Mountains, the Grand Canyon. Their paintings, particularly John Twachtman’s, engaged deliberately with time in a variety of ways—geologic, diurnal, seasonal, and with earlier depictions of these sites. In this context, what does “belatedness” mean, and by whom is that attribute assigned?
Erica E. Hirshler is an expert in late 19th and early 20th-century American painting who has published extensively on American Impressionism, John Singer Sargent, Mary Cassatt, and women artists and collectors. She is particularly interested in artistic exchange between the United States and Europe and issues of national identity. She also studies Boston’s history, art, and patronage. She holds a BA from Wellesley College and an MA and PhD from Boston University, and serves on the Board of Directors for the Terra Foundation of American Art. Her next exhibition, an interdisciplinary project exploring John Singer Sargent, fashion, and the construction of character, will open in the fall of 2023.
Maurice Cullen’s ‘Canadian’ Impressionism
Marnin Young, Associate Professor and Chair of Art History, Yeshiva University
This talk looks at the series of paintings Maurice Cullen (1866-1934) produced in Quebec in the late 1890s. Having returned to Montreal after several successful years studying and working in France, he seems to have been determined to make a mark in his home country. And his tactic was clear. Cullen adapted the plein-air principles and brushwork techniques he had acquired abroad to the representation of a distinctly Canadian iconography. Works like Logging in Winter near Beaupré have consequently come to embody the earliest phase of Canadian Impressionism. But what exactly does this mean? Did Cullen import a French style of painting, or did he cultivate a distinctly Canadian one? When these landscapes first appeared in Montreal, critics declared them to be “French.” In later years, however, such paintings stood as the embodiment of the “Canadian spirit.” How, then, did a displaced “French” Impressionism attach itself to the concept of “Canada”? This presentation will argue that Cullen’s work of the 1890s sought to manage this belatedness by combining two distinct if interlocking ways of conceptualizing space: the phenomenological and the geo-political.
Marnin Young is Associate Professor and Chair of Art History at Stern College for Women, Yeshiva University in New York. He received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. Dr. Young’s first book, Realism in the Age of Impressionism: Painting and the Politics of Time, appeared in 2015. He has published articles on nineteenth-century French painting in The Art Bulletin, Art History, Nineteenth Century Studies, RACAR, The RIHA Journal, and Nonsite, where he is a contributing editor. Recent work includes essays in the catalogues for the exhibitions Félix Fénéon (1861-1944) and Through Vincent’s Eyes: Van Gogh and His Sources.
Alfredo Andersen’s Impressionism: Strokes of a Belated Brazilian Identity
Georgia Soares, PhD Candidate, Comparative Literature, Harvard University
Alfredo Andersen (1860-1935), a Norwegian-born painter who immigrated to Brazil in 1892, was a central figure in Paranismo (1920-30), a regional artistic movement in his adopted state of Paraná, Brazil. Moving to this region at a time of intensified nation-building efforts, Andersen inserted himself in the local culture by painting regional symbols that represented a new Paranaense identity. Yet his paintings earned distinction not merely for their symbolic representation, but for their masterful manipulation of light and colour, bringing to life what critics called “Brazilian light.” In this presentation, I analyse how Andersen’s impressionist paintings of the Paranaense coast negotiated tensions between newness and belated blooming of a distinct regional culture, in the context of the Paranismo movement.
Georgia Soares is a Ph.D. candidate in Comparative Literature at Harvard University, specializing in 19th and 20th century American, Brazilian, French, and Norwegian literatures and cultures. She studies cultural formation from a transatlantic perspective, focusing on the relations between migration and education in the Americas. Her article “A Norwegian Brazilian Transcultural Encounter” (Harvard Review of Latin America) investigates the relationship between migration and educational institutions in the context of Norwegian immigration to Brazil. She holds a master’s in Comparative and International Education from the University of Oslo and a bachelor’s in English from the University of Southern California. In 2023 she received a Fulbright research award to conduct research for her dissertation on “Fictions of Education and Transatlantic Social Movements” with a focus on 20th-century French and Brazilian literature. She will be at the Sorbonne for one year.