oil on canvas
Painted circa 1894 in Brielle, New Jersey
Theodore Robinson traveled to France for the first time in 1876 and then again in the spring of 1884. "Robinson spent most of the next eight years in France, with frequent trips back to the United States. Unlike many artists in the nineteenth century, he did not restrict his artistic investigations to Paris, slavishly imitating the academic tradition. It was during these years that Robinson began searching for a deeper, more intense way of looking at nature—a search that would lead beyond a superficial vision to an investigation of the subtle variegations of light, atmosphere, and color evident in even the most ordinary landscape. This search culminated in 1888 with his discovery of the Normandy village of Giverny, where Robinson's conversion to Impressionism began" (William H. Gerdts, Lasting Impressions: American Painters in France 1865-1915, Illinois,1992, p.30).
American painters had been coming to Giverny since 1885, many to study with Claude Monet. Robinson's paintings from the last quarter of the nineteenth century reveal his indebtedness to this iconic figure, whom he befriended in 1887 during his stay in Giverny. But the young American artist was not merely an imitator of Monet's technique. Sona Johnston writes, "He did not abstract the image before him as Monet had advised. With few exceptions, his forms remain solid, firmly-defined, and the subject matter is always clearly identifiable. Although the degree of his initial devotion to Monet's Impressionism is obvious, his art demonstrates a selection and subsequent interpretation of those elements most sympathetic to his manner of expression" (Theodore Robinson, Baltimore, Maryland, 1973, p.xiv).
In Sunlight and Shadows Robinson depicts Nettie Wildey in a white summer dress, gazing down at an open book, walking through a sun dappled landscape unaware of the viewer. Robinson's early academic training in representational realism at the National Academy of Design is evident in the solid form and figure of the young woman. But the artist's newfound impressionist style dominates the canvas as he paints a network of broken brushstrokes to achieve the atmospheric effects of light across the woman's dress and builds a delicate background of trees and grass with patches of color and spots of light and shadow. In contrast to Monet's opulent colors, Robinson's more tonal palette in this picture revolves around hues of green and cooler blues. In characteristic fashion, Robinson disperses small strokes of paint with a deceptive evenness that creates a uniform texture and softening blur across the canvas.
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