Reproductions Metcalf, Willard Leroy

Willard Leroy Metcalf

1858 - 1925

Painter, United States, Impressionism

Willard Leroy Metcalf Biography

Willard Leroy Metcalf, known to all his friends as "Metty" (Metcalf refused to answer to Willard), is recognized as the "poet laureate of the New England hilW1 for his quiet Impressionist landscape paintings of the farms and villages of that region. A founding member of The Ten, Metcalf brought an Impressionist’s understanding of color and light to the seasonal cycles and shifts of weather that characterize New England. At the same time, Metcalf's observations of nature were built on particularity; what some have called his "Yankee reticence” was in fact a naturalist’s love of specifics combined with a deep understanding of the underlying pattern of the whole.

For the first twenty years of his career Metcalf had been in turn a Hudson River School painter, a prolific illustrator, and a Barbizon landscapist. Metcalf's early artistic gifts were noted and embraced by his parents; at age sixteen Metcalf was apprenticed to the painter George Loring Brown and two years later was admitted to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts School, where he studied under William Rimmer. In 1881, in order to earn passage to France, Metcalf worked as an illustrator of magazine articles on the Zuni Native Americans. His fascination with Zuni cosmology and ritual led him to postpone study abroad for another year to join the pioneer anthropologist, Frank Hamilton Cushing, on a Smithsonian expedition.

In the fall of 1883, Metcalf enrolled in the Acad6mie Julian in Paris, where he was joined by other young Americans, among them Frank Weston Benson, Edward Simmons, and Arthur Hoeber. For the next five years Metcalf remained in France, not only acquiring professional polish at the academy but, far more importantly, joining his artist- companions on extended explorations of the countryside. There were trips to Pont-Aven in Brittany, where Metcalf met the American painter Alexander Harrison and the French artist Jules Bastien-Lepage, and to Grez-sur-Loing, center of the international community of Barbizon painters. But perhaps the most formative experiences in Metcalf’s artistic development were his visits to Giverny, home of the most famous Impressionist, Claude Monet.

Metcalf possibly first visited Giverny in 1886, where he sought out Monet and was invited to lunch. Metcalf hiked and sketched in the countryside around Giverny in the company of Monet’s step-daughters, discovering a wealth of subjects-the river and the red-roofed houses, the grain stacks and the gardens that Monet was transforming into brilliant chromatic essays. Theodore Robinson also spent considerable time in Giverny and together, Metcalf’s and Robinson’s discoveries attracted other Americans, to the point that Giverny soon became a veritable colony of American Impressionists.

At the same time, Metcalf moved cautiously toward the more radical aspects of Monet’s style: the high keyed color, the division of light into its component hues, and the broken brushwork that became the movement’s signature traits. However, as is evident in Spring Landscape, Giverny, Metcalf also continued to work through his near- simultaneous discoveries of the merits of the Barbizon painters and James Abbott McNeill Whistler, whose paintings he had encountered in Paris. Although painted in Giverny, the emphasis of Spring Landscape, Giverny is on closely-related harmonies of russets, greens, and grays. Though the painting extends to buildings and hills in the far distance, its composition reads more as a series of shallow planes; its larger forms are broadly painted, its details mere swift flicks of contrasting hue. There is nothing here yet to suggest Metcalf’s later style save that the scene is flooded with the peaceful warmth of a summer day that could only have been observed en plein-air.