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

Early Snow

John Leslie Breck (1860-1899)
Early Snow
signed and dated 'John Leslie Breck/1894' (lower left)
oil on canvas
18¼ x 22 in. (48.9 x 55.9 cm.)
(Possibly) Dwight Blaney.
Private collection, Vermont, 1980.
Private collection, acquired from the above, 2001.
Christie's, New York, 29 November 2007, lot 65.
Acquired by the present owner from the above.
(Possibly) St. Botolph Club, Paintings by John Leslie Breck, exhibition catalogue, Boston, Massachusetts, 1895, n.p. (as Sun and Snow).
(Possibly) St. Botolph Club, Memorial Exhibition: John Leslie Breck, exhibition catalogue, Boston Massachusetts, 1899, n.p., no. 15 (as Winter, Rutland).
(Possibly) Boston, Massachusetts, St. Botolph Club, Paintings by John Leslie Breck, February 25-March 9, 1895 (as Sun and Snow).
(Possibly) Boston, Massachusetts, St. Botolph Club, and elsewhere, Memorial Exhibition: John Leslie Breck, 1899, no. 15 (as Winter, Rutland).

Lot Essay

During the summer of 1890, John Leslie Breck returned to Boston from Giverny, where he had been painting since the 1880s, and by November he opened his first of three exhibitions at the St. Botolph Club. According to William Gerdts, the show "provoked a storm of reaction in both Boston and in New York. Boston criticism ran the gamut from genuine admiration to charges of amateurism and slovenly brushwork." (W.H. Gerdts, American Impressionism, New York, 1984, pp. 65-66) Breck continued to exhibit in Boston, and in his 1893 exhibition at the J. Eastman Chase Galleries he showed a group of landscapes. In a review 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,' exposes 39 landscapes in oils at Chase's gallery ...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)

Painted just a year after his success with the Chase exhibition, Early Snow combines the delicate Impressionist style, which typifies his very best landscapes, with a bold composition. Here the viewer looks from a high vantage point over a New England landscape covered with fresh snow. The locality is the Breck family farmhouse in West Rutland, near the center of Massachusetts, where the artist is known to have painted other winter scenes in 1894.

Breck casts the foreground in a dramatic blue shadow, which he contrasts with warm light illuminating the rest of the scene. Painted in a high-keyed palette characteristic of Impressionism, the landscape depicts the strong raking light of an early morning on a crisp and clear winter's day. Close examination of the paint surface suggests the presence of a layer of green paint underneath the snow--giving rise to the possibility that the landscape may have begun as a green design spontaneously altered by the artist. Given his tendency to paint landscapes directly from nature, which he had learned from painting with Monet in Giverny, it is an attractive notion that he may have been forced by the happenstance of a snowfall to alter his original intentions. This is one of the earliest and purest Impressionist achievements by any American painter.

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