WILLARD LEROY METCALF
"THE ROAD THAT LEADS HOME"
oil on canvas, 26 x 29 1⁄4 inches,
signed lower right "W. L. Metcalf", also faintly signed lower
left "W. L. Metcalf"
The artist; Private Collection; Spanierman Gallery,
New York, New York; R.H. Love Galleries, Chicago, Illinois;
Private Collection, Chicago, Illinois;
Private Collection, Illinois.
Note: This work will be included in the forthcoming
catalogue raisonne being coordinated by Betty Krulik
and the Willard Leroy Metcalf Catalogue Raisonne
Willard Leroy Metcalf is celebrated as the “poet laureate of the New England hills.” His paintings capture subtle variations in color, the fleeting effects of light and shadow and the overwhelming, unique beauty of the region.
Metcalf began his painting career early in life studying painting first in Boston. After finishing his apprenticeship and a two-year program at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, he travelled to New Mexico to paint the Zuni people. Once he had saved enough money, he set out to study in Europe travelling to France, England and Northern Africa.
He spent several years abroad primarily in Paris, summering in Grez and Giverny. He studied at the famous Académie Julian, exhibited at the Salon and befriended artists including Childe Hassam and John Twachtman.
By 1889, Metcalf returned to the United States and was living in New York. The following ten years had mixed successes for Metcalf as the taste for French-style painting waned in the States. Notably in 1898, he was a founding member of “The Ten” a group of like-minded American artists who seceded from the Society of American Artists to exhibit together in smaller venues.
In late 1903 or early 1904 he retreated to his parents’ home in Clark’s Cove, Maine to reconsider his work. In 1905, he had his first one-man show at Fishel, Adler and Schwartz Gallery in New York City. It was here that Metcalf finally hit his stride in the States. Elizabeth DeVeer writes, “at Clark’s Cove he rid himself of his nostalgia for France and became first and foremost an American, with a new and profound allegiance to the land.”
Following his period in Maine, and finding ample inspiration in the New England landscape, Metcalf begin to summer in Old Lyme with Mrs. Florence Griswold. “Miss Florence,” as she was known, maintained a boarding house that became a destination for artists working in Old Lyme. He spent three summers there and then, after quickly becoming famous, retreated to Maine spending time with Frank Benson and his wife Ellen.
Metcalf’s life changed dramatically after the success of the 1905 exhibition. He became highly successful exhibiting again at Fishel, Adler and Schwartz in New York. Albert Milch became his gallerist and friend, mounting highly successful one-man exhibitions of Metcalf’s latest paintings. As his career took off, his personal life faced hurdles. His wife, Marguerite, ran away with his friend and fellow artist Robert Nisbet. Metcalf personally struggled with alcoholism but found support from his friends, particularly Benson and Milch. His freedom and success afforded him the opportunity to travel in New England. He spent periods in Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and Connecticut, painting the landscape throughout.
Despite his personal hardships, his paintings became better and better and the critical reception for his works grew increasingly favorable. In February 1925 mid-way through yet another successful exhibition at Milch Galleries, he suffered a fatal heart attack. Today Metcalf is considered one of America’s treasured Impressionists and among the best of the New England Impressionists. His work is featured in numerous private and public collections including The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C.