Exhibit: ‘Winter Light’ American Impressionist Paintings

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Louise Upton Brumback, Grey Day, Gloucester, 1920If one is to see a frozen landscape as something other than absence or nothingness, one must have a mind of winter, the poet Wallace Stevens said. Or the mind of an American artist.

That, at any rate, is what one will conclude from the American Impressionist paintings that will be exhibited in “Winter Light: Selections from the Collection of Thomas Clark,” which opens at The Hyde Collection on January 25.

There is nothing empty or void in any of these twenty paintings, most of which have been acquired by Clark since the Hyde’s 2009 exhibition, “An Enduring Legacy: American Impressionist Landscape Paintings from the Thomas Clark Collection.”

Clark, a Saratoga County resident who has been collecting American Impressionists for twenty-five years, would probably be surprised to hear that anyone would associate winter landscapes with nothingness.

“I had never really seen the remarkable array of light on snow before I began to collect these painters,” said Clark. “But once you start to see the winter landscape through the eyes of the artists, you begin to see the range of colors and the interplay of light and snow. It changes the way you see the world around you.”

Arthur Clifton Goodwin, The Wharf and Custom House Tower, ca 1915According to Hyde director Charles Guerin, most of the paintings included in the show were completed in the 1920s and 30s, by artists who followed in the footsteps of the first generation of American Impressionists, such as William Merritt Chase, Willard L. Metcalf, John Henry Twachtman, and Robert Henri.

Artists represented include: Walter Emerson Baum (1884-1956); Arthur Clifton Goodwin (1864-1929); Aldro Thompson Hibbard (1886-1972); Walter Koeniger (1881-1943); Francis Luis Mora (1874-1940); Frederick Mulhaupt (1871-1938); Hobart Nichols (1897-1955); and George Gardner Symons (1862-1930).

The exhibition is organized by Erin Coe, the Hyde’s chief curator, who also curated the museum’s 2009 show “An Enduring Legacy: American Impressionist Landscape Paintings from the Thomas Clark Collection.”

“The painters represented in this collection were primarily concerned with capturing the effects of light, color, and atmosphere achieved by painting directly from nature – out-of-doors – rather than in the studio,” said Coe.

According to Clark, approximately one third of the paintings in his collection are of winter landscapes, and they proved to be among the most popular in the 2009 show.

“They seemed to truly resonate with people, and I think that’s why we chose to focus on winter landscapes in this iteration of the original show. Erin and I worked together to choose the paintings that would be included in this exhibition, but Erin made the final decisions,” said Clark.

The artists included in the show sought to adapt the techniques of the French Impressionists to the American landscape, said Charles Guerin.

“Like every generation of artists, they wanted to move forward. They were looking for ways to re-interpret the American landscape, to bring a new light to it, to paint it in ways that had not been done by the Hudson River School painters or the Luminists,” said Guerin.

In painting the American landscape, and especially the landscapes of the New England coast, Vermont and the Hudson Valley, the artists could not have avoided snow, said Clark.

“In France, where many of them studied, the American Impressionists would have seen little snow. So it creates a uniquely American scene,” said Clark.

Or, as Erin Coe noted in a lecture about Clark’s collection, “Winter landscapes are the visual equivalent of a poem by Robert Frost,” that most self-consciously regional of American poets.

George Gardner Symons, Winter Scene, Cornish, New Hampshire, ca 1910Many of the artists represented in the show had a deep affinity for the regions where they painted, said Clark.

“Aldro Thompson Hibbard, who was the dean of the North Shore artists at Rockport, spent his winters a short distance away, in Jeffersonville, Vermont. Arthur James Emery Powell lived and worked in Dutchess County, in the Hudson Valley. But others were more adventuresome, and traveled throughout the country painting different landscapes,” Clark said.

Powell’s “Winter Landscape,” by the way, was donated by Clark to The Hyde in 2012, said Coe.

Moreover, she said, “Thomas Clark’s entire collection of American Impressionist paintings is a promised gift to The Hyde Collection. This means that his entire collection of paintings, which consists of approximately 165 works at this point, will come to The Hyde as a bequest upon his death. Until then, he prefers to live with his collection, but will loan works for exhibition.”

“Thomas Clark is not the average collector; he’s a serious scholar of American Impressionism, with extensive knowledge of the style and period,” said Charles Guerin. “He has an exquisite eye for great examples of this art, and loves the process of finding new treasures and acquiring them. We’re grateful for his generosity as a true friend and supporter of the Hyde Collection.”

The Clark collection will broaden and deepen The Hyde’s permanent collection, said Guerin.

“It’s important for a regional institution to include work that was created in the region,” said Guerin.

“Imagine a museum in the southwest without any work painted in the southwest. Thomas Clark’s generosity will enable us to fulfill and expand our mission.”

Illustrations, from above: Louise Upton Brumback, “Grey Day, Gloucester,” 1920; Arthur Clifton Goodwin, “The Wharf and Custom House Tower,” ca. 1915; and George Gardner Symons, “Winter Scene, Cornish, New Hampshire,” ca. 1910.

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