Willard Leroy Metcalf is celebrated for his ability to capture the spirit of the New England landscape in an Impressionist style that is uniquely American. His attention to light, short brushstrokes and pastel palette all recall the painter’s time in Giverny, France, while his attention to compositional design and his choice of subject matter firmly establish Metcalf's commitment to American Art.
During his own time, the Americaness of Metcalf’s 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, exhibition catalogue, New York, 2003, p. 20) It is Metcalf’s abilities as an Impressionist that allow him to go beyond the simple replication of a particular place. He conveys the time of the day and the sentiment of being in that place, at a particular time of the year, through his sensitivity to characteristics of the seasons and their effect on light, color and atmosphere.
In The Blue Brook Metcalf creates the sense that the the air is thin and clear, the trees and pasture are lush and the vibrant blue brook is cool. He bathes the landscape with sunlight that does not diffuse the scene, but rather imbues the place with form and texture. The tranquility and serenity of this landscape is poignantly recorded, and he successfully creates an idyllic image that embraces the landscape in its most beautiful and picturesque form.
Beyond his deft abilities as an Impressionist painter, the structure on which Metcalf hangs his paint strokes, is 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) Here, the viewer enters through the vibrant blue of the brook at lower left, follows it, ambling back, to the bridge and road at center right, before moving onward, up the road, into the small village and the rolling hills in the far distance. This synthesis of painterly ability and compositional ingenuity in representing a distinctly American landscape is an approach that characterizes much of Metcalf's work.
It is his abilities as an artist combined with his sincere understanding of the American landscape, evident in works such as The Blue Brook, that solidified Metcalf as one of the most accomplished American Impressionists and that account for his timeless appeal.
This work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné in formation by the Willard Leroy Metcalf Catalogue Raisonné, Inc. being compiled by Betty Krulik.