John Leslie Breck (1860-1899)
Property of an Estate
John Leslie Breck (1860-1899)

At Annisquam

John Leslie Breck (1860-1899)
At Annisquam
signed 'John Leslie Breck' (lower right)
oil on canvas
18 x 22 in. (45.7 x 55.8 cm.)
Painted in 1894.
Private collection, Vermont, until 1994.
Brown Corbin Fine Art, Lincoln, Massachusetts.
Acquired by the present owner from the above, 1997.
Boston, Massachusetts, St. Botolph Club, Paintings by John Leslie Breck, February 25-March 9, 1895, no. 4.

Lot Essay

John Leslie Breck's earliest Impressionist paintings were produced in Giverny, France, where he was among the first Americans to discover the charms of this village on the River Epte. In 1887, Breck promoted the village among his fellow American students at the Académie Julian in Paris, many of whom also settled there, and like Breck, resided at the new Hotel Baudy, which catered to foreign artists. The hotel quickly became a focus of American expatriate activity, with fellow artists Theodore Butler, Willard Metcalf, Theodore Robinson and Theodore Wendel, among others, all taking up rooms there. The Baudy was a short walk from Monet's home and garden.

Notice of this vanguard group of American Impressionists appeared swiftly in the press. The same year, in October 1887, a critic for The Art Amateur suggested that the development of an Impressionist expatriate style was immediate and profound: "Quite an American colony has gathered, I am told, at Givernay [sic], seventy miles from Paris, on the Seine, the home of Claude Monet, including our Louis Ritter, W. L. Metcalf, Theodore Wendell [sic], John Breck, and Theodore Robinson of New York. A few pictures just received from these young men show that they have got the blue-green color of Monet's impressionism and 'got it bad.'" (Anonymous, "Boston Art and Artists," The Art Amateur, 17, no. 5, October 1887, p. 93, as quoted in R.H. Love, Theodore Earl Butler: Emergence from Monet's Shadow, Chicago, Illinois, 1985, p. 59)

In the main, Monet did not interact a great deal with the American expatriates, yet Breck was in Monet's inner circle, and enjoyed unique artistic access to the Impressionist master, which was even noted in a contemporary art periodical lauding his work, "John Leslie Breck of the only pupil of the French Impressionist, Claude Monet. Mr Breck's pictures have created no little interest in artistic circles in Boston." (The Studio, vol. 8, October 11, 1890, p. 47)

The time that Breck spent painting in Giverny had a profound influence on the direction of his painting. "Breck was primarily a Tonal landscape painter, but in the five years that he lived in close proximity to Monet, the undisputed master of the garden picture, he produced a number of dazzling, highly Impressionistic garden paintings. Garden at Giverny (In Monet's Garden), c. 1887, and Garden at Giverny, c. 1890, are fine examples of Breck's new high-keyed, lusciously textured style. Alternating broad strokes of paint with feathery touches, he builds up the dense garden growth. It is likely that these paintings were in Breck's first one-person show, which took place in Boston at the St. Botolph Club in 1890. Although critical reaction was generally negative--the works being considered too radical--the garden paintings elicited excitement." (Musée d'Art Americain Giverny, Lasting Impressions: American Painters in France, 1865-1915, Chicago, Illinois, 1992, p. 146)

Breck emerged from Giverny as one of the most influential members of the Boston Impressionist circle. A critic wrote in a review of his 1893 exhibition at the J. Eastman Chase Galleries a critic wrote: "Mr. J. L. Breck, who has been saddled, whether he likes it or not, with the title 'Head of the American Impressionists'...It is stating it mildly to say that artistic Boston was nearly pushed off its critical equilibrium and a fierce controversy at once arose between the champions of the old, or black, and the new, or light, landscape schools, of which latter Mr. Breck was at once recognized, by friend and foe, to be the American head. The fight ended in a rout of the enemy. Such authoritative collectors as Mr. Quincy Shaw eagerly bought the pictures, and one has but to visit the Boston studios and exhibitions of today to see the powerful effects of that little collection at the Botolph Club...America has reason to be proud of a painter of Mr. Breck's strength." (D.W.X., "Mr. John L. Breck's Landscapes," The Boston Daily Globe, Jan 25, 1893, p. 10)

Breck painted At Annisquam in 1894, the year following this review, and the work demonstrates the artist at the height of his abilities as well as his application of his French born style to the American landscape. Upon his return to America, Breck found inspiration in various scenic Massachusetts locations including the village of Annisquam, which is located on Cape Ann near Gloucester and was a popular location with artists in the later decades of the nineteenth century. In At Annisquam, lush summer grasses, vibrant yellow blooms and vivid, blue waters seem to burst from the canvas, reflecting the best of Breck's Impressionist technique as he captures the character and texture of a sun-filled summer day.

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