Willard Leroy Metcalf (1858-1925)
Property of an Estate
Willard Leroy Metcalf (1858-1925)

May Pastoral

Willard Leroy Metcalf (1858-1925)
May Pastoral
signed and dated 'W.L. Metcalf - 1907' (lower left)
oil on canvas
36 x 39 in. (91.4 x 99 cm.)
[With]Montross Gallery, New York, by 1908.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts, 1908.
[With]Vance Jordan Fine Art, Inc., New York.
Acquired by the present owner from the above, 2000.
"Landscapes and Portraits," The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 3, 1908, p. 4.
"Art Exhibitions. New Landscapes by Mr. Willard L. Metcalf," New York Tribune, January 3, 1908.
A. Hoeber, "Art and Artists. Willard L. Metcalf's Exhibition at Montross Gallery," The New York Globe, January 4, 1908.
American Art News, January 4, 1908.
"Around the Galleries," The New York Sun, January 1908.
J.E. Chamberlain, "Mr. Metcalf's Nature Pictures," The Evening Mail, January 7, 1908.
The Philadelphia Inquirer, January 12, 1908.
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Exhibition of Paintings by Ten American Painters, exhibition catalogue, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1908, n.p., no. 51, illustrated.
"New of Art and Artists," The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 12, 1908, p. 7a.
W.H. Downes, "The Ten Painters," Boston Evening Transcript, May 9, 1908, p. 2.
"Metcalf's May Pastoral," Buffalo Express, June 15, 1908.
Boston Transcript, June 1908.
Boston Transcript, June 23, 1908.
Buffalo Express, June 28, 1908.
Bulletin of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts, August 1908.
H. Bentley, "In the Galleries," International Studio, December 1908, pp. LV, LIV, illustrated.
"Notable Collection of Paintings Coming Here," Indianapolis News, February 1926.
I. Asher, "Willard Leroy Metcalf," Dictionary of American Biography, v. XII, New York, 1943, p. 583.
Lyman Allen Museum, The Art Colony at Old Lyme 1900-1935, exhibition catalogue, New London, Connecticut, 1966, p. 37, no. 74.
Boston, Massachusetts, American Paintings in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1969, p. 196, fig. 509, illustrated.
F. Murphy, E. de Veer, Willard Leroy Metcalf: A Retrospective, exhibition catalogue, Springfield, Massachusetts, 1976, pp. 5, 36, no. 27, illustrated.
William Benton Museum of Art, Connecticut and American Impressionism, exhibition catalogue, Storrs, Connecticut, 1980, pp. 59, 73, no. 47, illustrated.
E. de Veer, R.J. Boyle, Sunlight and Shadow: The Life and Art of Willard L. Metcalf, New York, 1987, pp. 228-29, fig. 270, illustrated (as May Pastorale).
B.W. Chambers, May Night: Willard Metcalf in Old Lyme, 1905-1907, exhibition catalogue, Old Lyme, Connecticut, 2005, pp. 130-31, 139 illustrated.
New York, Montross Gallery, Exhibition of Pictures by Willard L. Metcalf, January 2-18, 1908, no. 7 (as May Pastorale).
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Exhibition of Paintings by Ten American Painters, April 11-May 3, 1908, no. 51.
Buffalo, New York, Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, Albright Art Gallery, Third Annual Exhibition of Selected Paintings by American Artists, April 30-August 30, 1908, no. 91.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Exhibition of Paintings by Ten American Painters, April 11-May 3, 1908, no. 51.
New London, Connecticut, Lyman Allen Museum, The Art Colony at Old Lyme 1900-1935, February 5-March 13, 1966, no. 74.
New Bedford, Massachusetts, Crapo Gallery, Swain School of Design, In Summer's Light, August-September 1967.
Boston, Massachusetts, Museum of Fine Arts, Impressionism: French and American, June 15-October 14, 1973, no. 119.
Utica, New York, Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute, and elsewhere, Willard Leroy Metcalf: A Retrospective, September 5-October 10, 1976, no. 27.
Storrs, Connecticut, The University of Connecticut, The William Benton Museum of Art, Connecticut and American Impressionism: The Artists and The Landscape, March 17-May 30, 1980.
Old Lyme, Connecticut, Florence Griswold Museum, May Night: Willard Metcalf in Old Lyme, 1905-1907, May 1-September 11, 2005.

Lot Essay

Critics lauded Willard Leroy Metcalf for his ability to capture the spirit of the New England landscape in a uniquely American style. In May Pastoral, Metcalf conveys the quiet energy of spring in a realistic depiction of the Old Lyme, Connecticut countryside. The artist first visited the artists' colony of Old Lyme in 1903 at the invitation of friend and fellow artist Childe Hassam. Inspired by the lush meadows and rolling hills, he returned for the summers of 1905 through 1908.

In 1899, Henry Ward Ranger founded the Old Lyme colony with the assistance of local resident Florence Griswold. The first years of the colony were predominantly associated with American Barbizon painters. However, in 1903 Childe Hassam arrived, bringing Impressionism with him. This quickly led to a divide between the followers of each style. Metcalf was one of the few artists able to straddle the middle ground between the two factions, a testament to the fact that it was the depiction of the landscape rather than an allegiance to a single style that underlies his work. "Always reluctant to give unqualified commitment to any single style, school, or movement--if it compromised his freedom to respond in the way he wished in his portrayal of an American scene in what he deemed to be an American manner--he had usually kept his options open, despite Childe Hassam's persistent pressuring from allegiance to Impressionism." (E. de Veer, Sunlight and Shadow: The Life and Art of Willard L. Metcalf, New York, 1987, p. 88)

The quality of the Connecticut landscapes, now counted among some of Metcalf's most important works, was immediately recognized by the art press. These lyrical compositions demonstrated a stylistic maturity not seen in his Maine works of the year before. "His brushwork and color harmonies matured and diversified; his subjects and compositions became more varied." (R.J. Boyle, et al., Willard Metcalf: Yankee Impressionist, New York, 2003, p. 22) A 1906 exhibition of his new works at the St. Boloph Club in Boston was triumphant both critically and financially. The success of this show underscores the quality of Metcalf's Connecticut landscapes from the period.

These qualities are exemplified in May Pastoral painted in 1907, the following year. This work combines Metcalf's consummate Impressionist technique and palette with his "insistence upon sure, pronounced draftsmanship and a careful delineation of space, often through emphasis upon a series of strong and clear diagonals [which] point back into the distance." (W.H. Gerdts, American Impressionism, Seattle, Washington, 1980, p. 79) His attention to light, short brushstrokes and pastel palette all recall Metcalf's time in Giverny, while the attention to detail and composition--demonstrated by the slant of the hill to the left, the vertical expanse created by budding trees against the river beyond, leading the viewer back into the work--stem from Metcalf's love of the New England landscape. This synthesis results in a distinctly American approach that characterizes much of Metcalf's work.

While rendered in an Impressionist style, the locations of Metcalf's landscapes are readily apparent, and the Americaness of his paintings was critically acclaimed, "Nationalism...was ascendant in the United States in art as in diplomacy, and foreign influences were becoming increasingly suspect. In such a climate, even though Metcalf's technique may have reflected his French training and his sympathy for Impressionism, the more noticeable aspects of his new paintings, for the critics, were their peculiarly American sense of place." (Willard Metcalf: Yankee Impressionist, p. 20) Not only does Metcalf realistically capture the landscape of Old Lyme, as in many of his best works he is also able to convey the time and sentiment of the day through his attention to the characteristics of the spring season such as the light, color and atmosphere. Elizabeth de Veer notes of the present work, "it is spring, and Metcalf's light touch and soft color celebrate the feeling of that season." (Sunlight and Shadow: The Life and Art of Willard L. Metcalf, p. 228)

Consistently, critics in Metcalf's lifetime extolled the national nature of his art, in particular with respect to his New England landscapes. The celebrated writer, Royal Cortissoz, said of the artist's work from this period, "Mr. Metcalf is careful to paint what he sees, and nothing more...Yet neither does he give you a literal record, a routine statement of facts. On the contrary, he chooses...a thoroughly pictorial episode...and then in the painting of it strikes a chord of color that is as exquisitely balanced as it is fresh and beautiful. There is, too...a kind of energy coming out in the direct and nervous character of the brush work." (Willard Metcalf: Yankee Impressionist, p. 22) It is the sincere appreciation and skill with which Metcalf depicted the American landscape in works such as May Pastoral that accounts for his timeless appeal.

This painting will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the works of Willard L. Metcalf by Ira Spanierman and Richard J. Boyle.

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