WILLARD LEROY METCALF
"IN THE GARDEN"
oil on canvas, 14 x 17 inches,
signed and dated lower right "W. L. Metcalf '78"
Sewell C. Biggs Museum, Dover, Delaware; Spanierman Gallery, New York, 1996;
Mrs. Alma Gilbert, 1996; Spanierman Gallery, New York; R. H. Love, Chicago, Illinois;
Private Collection, Chicago, Illinois; Private Collection, Illinois.
Spanierman Gallery, New York, "Willard Leroy Metcalf: An American Impressionist,"
November 21, 1995 - January 27, 1996.
Note: This work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonne being
coordinated by Betty Krulik and the Willard Leroy Metcalf
Catalogue Raisonne Project, Inc.
A founding member of the famed group “The Ten,” Willard Leroy Metcalf has cemented his reputation as a leading figure in American Impressionism. Born in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1858, Metcalf begin his artistic training at an early age. His parents, interested in the occult, divined that their son was destined to be a painter and encouraged him to move in that direction. By 1875 he was apprenticed to wood engraver, George Loring Brown.
In 1876, Metcalf was one of five students offered a scholarship to attend the new School of Art at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston. From 1877-1876 Metcalf took artistic anatomy courses from Dr. William Rimmer, an odd personality in the Boston artistic circle. Despite this, John La Farge, William Morris Hunt and Frank Benson all studied with Rimmer. Metcalf’s figure drawings improved during this period.
It was during this time, as a young artist, when Metcalf painted In the Garden. Although he had not yet travelled to France, Metcalf was clearly absorbing a French Impressionist style and moving away from the influence of George Loring Brown.
Elizabeth de Veer notes in Sunlight and Shadow, “Two Vermont pictures of 1878, Landscape with Chickens, painted at Bridgewater, and In the Garden, probably done in Woodstock, strongly reflect the French style. The figure in In the Garden is reminiscent not only of Millet, in an American light, but also of Winslow Homer’s figure pieces of the late sixties and early seventies, although the overall feeling is French.”
The authors go on to describe the availability of paintings by American artists emulating a Barbizon style in Boston museums and private collections. Metcalf would have seen works by George Inness, Winckworth Allan Gay and Thomas Robinson. William Morris Hunt was a particularly influential figure in the Boston art scene bringing works by French Barbizon artists Couture and Millet to his Boston home. 1
In the Garden is an important work in Metcalf’s oeuvre. It begins the story of a skilled artist who was drawn to French Impressionism from the start. Five years after the painting was completed, Metcalf travelled to France and immersed himself in the French Impressionist style. A decade or so later he would return to the States and become a distinctly American artist and the preeminent Impressionist painter of New England landscapes (see lot 57).
1 Elizabeth de Veer and Richard Boyle, Sunlight and Shadow: The Life and Art of Willard Leroy Metcalf, New York: Abbeville Press, 1987, pp. 168-169.