Throughout his career, Joseph DeCamp explored and found success with a great variety of subjects, from landscapes to interior portraits to female nudes. An experimenter with Impressionist technique, DeCamp achieved several of his greatest works while working en plein air. Indeed, the artist's first major award, a medal at Atlanta's International Exposition of the Cotton States in 1895, was won with an outdoor figural composition entitled The Hammock. Exhibiting the delicate balance of Academic precision with Impressionist play which earned him that award and several others, the present work demonstrates DeCamp's ability to blend popular artistic themes with his unique, elegant executional style to capture dramatic scenes of turn-of-the-century life.
Painted during one of DeCamp's summers in Gloucester, Massachusetts, Farewell depicts a beautiful woman in white waving goodbye to a departing ship from her lookout on the area's rocky coastal cliffs. With differentiated brushstrokes of blues, grays and pinks, DeCamp creates a misty seascape in the background, the boat barely visible on the hazy horizon. The central figure's stylish gown, pure white but blowing in the wind to create folds and shadows of blue, yellow and pink, utilizes the quintessential light effects of Impressionists for atmospheric effect. The subdued shades of the sky, sea and dress are enlivened by the dark purple-blue of her elaborate hat and the bright corals and greens of the land in the foreground. With the woman's face obscured, her defined body language takes center stage: her limply-raised waving arm holding a handkerchief, left hand clutching her dress and head stubbornly focused on the distant sea imply a sorrowful mood without overstating it. The hilltop locale creates a visually dynamic diagonal across the picture plane and adds to the emotional drama as well.
With its compositional and expressive poignancy, it is no wonder that hilltop works such as Farewell have a storied presence in American and Impressionist art history. Certainly, Winslow Homer found great success capturing women of leisure perched on cliff tops in his painting Long Branch, New Jersey (1869, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts). Claude Monet is also an important influence on both the present work's style and arrangement. In several of his compositions, the famous French artist depicts a figure in a flurry of white skirts, holding a parasol and theatrically posing against the cloudy sky beyond her hilltop. In Monet's paintings, and in Farewell, the hues of the sky find their way into the figure's white dress, creating a harmonious yet powerful outdoor scene.
Farewell also reflects DeCamp's involvement with the group of American painters known as The Ten and the strong impact his colleagues had on his development into a nationally renowned artist. Summers in Gloucester were a veritable reunion of some of the best artists of the day, and DeCamp alongside contemporary John Henry Twachtman taught art students while vacationing by the shore. The intermingling of ideas created an inspirational environment for works such as Farewell to be executed. DeCamp's work is particularly associated with two fellow artists, Edmund Tarbell and Frank Benson, with whom he once shared a studio space at St. Botolph Street in Boston. Their proximity often led to a sharing of ideas and inspirations. Of particular note, "DeCamp, Tarbell and Benson were all enthralled with the figure perched on a hilltop against a glorious cloud-filled sky." (F.A. Bedford, The Art of Frank W. Benson, Salem, Massachusetts, 2000, p. 64) As such, Tarbell's On Bos'n's Hill (1901, The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio) and Benson's Sunlight (1909, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis, Indiana) similarly capture a regal woman in white atop a rise of land.
Incorporating a classic motif of art history into a painting uniquely combining sharp detail with Impressionist brushwork and color, Farewell is a lovely testament to DeCamp's technical and emotive skill as an artist.