American Impressionism

Treasures from the Daywood Collection

Irving Couse, “The Eagle Plaque,” oil on board. Huntington Museum of Art.

Works by leading American painters in the late-19th and early-20th century, including Robert Henri, George Inness, George Luks, Gari Melchers, John Sloan, John Twachtman, and J. Alden Weir. Their luminous works capture the evocative, timeless beauty exemplified in the art of this transitional time period. Like their European counterparts, American painters were abandoning the rules of academic styles and subjects, turning to intimate scenes of the American landscape and figure studies of friends and neighbors. 

The selected works include American impressionist-style landscapes, figure paintings, and a still life. Influences from the traditional European academic traditions as well as those of the less formal Barbizon school in France are seen in the works by landscape artists Homer Dodge Martin, Henry Ward Ranger, Ross Sterling Turner, Alexander Wyant, and others. As impressionism swept through Europe and became the dominant style, American artists such as Wilson Irvine, Ernest Lawson, Willard Metcalf, Edward Redfield, and John Twachtman further developed the movement’s striking effects and techniques in paintings of our country’s lush landscapes. Many of these artists also favored working en plein air, or outdoors, just as the European impressionists had practiced.

American figure painters John Costigan, Gari Melchers, and Ashton Wilson also gravitated to the impressionist style. Eanger Irving Couse and William Robinson Leigh chose to capture the vanishing native cultures of the American West, creating dramatic representations of Native Americans that have been called romanticized but respectful. Albert Groll was also drawn to the Southwest, inspired by the desert region’s stark beauty, unique qualities of light, and expansive skies.

Arthur Bowen Davies, “Esmeralda,” c.1915, oil on canvas. Huntington Museum of Art.

The Lightner’s new director, David Bagnall, has pledged to help tell the story behind art collections and their collectors (see “The Conversation,” in the Oct./November issue of Arbus). “American Impressionism: Treasures from the Daywood Collection” tells a story, through luminous American masterpieces, of one couple’s foray into the world of art patronage in early 20th-century America. The collection of works is named for its original owners, Arthur Dayton and Ruth Woods Dayton (whose family surnames combine to form the moniker Daywood), prominent West Virginia art collectors who amassed over 200 works of art by the early 20th century. The Daytons gave preference to American works that they considered beautiful and uplifting, rather than patronizing the new wave of European painters. The artworks together present a window into the lives of the Daytons as well as into the extraordinary art of our nation at the turn of the century.

“American Impressionism: Treasures from the Daywood Collection” will be on display April 8 through July 5 at the Lightner Museum, 75 King Street, St. Augustine, (904) 824-2874,

Author: Arbus

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