One of the most innovative painters of his day, John Henry Twachtman advanced the tenets of Impressionism further than most of his American contemporaries. With a goal of furthering progressive ideas in art, he was also an influential member of the Ten American painters, a group that he helped organize with the intention of promoting pure painting. From its founding in 1897, The Ten, as they came to be known, offered annual exhibitions to highlight the type of Impressionist painting that became the hallmark of Twachtman's oeuvre. "Twachtman's career was characterized by a spirit of experimentation," writes Lisa Peters. "He developed a highly individual style that responded to the artistic issues of his time, yet was never limited by them...[He] remained devoted to creating art that was personal, often defiant of the conventional." (John Henry Twachtman: An American Impressionist, Atlanta, Georgia, 1999, p. 9)
Twachtman's primary subject was nature, most particularly the natural or cultivated landscape. Along with the majority of his late landscapes, Hemlocks depicts his property in Greenwich, Connecticut, where he created many of his most important and lasting images. He settled there in 1889, dedicating himself to depicting his home and gardens. "I feel more and more contented with the isolation of country life," Twachtman wrote to artist Julian Alden Weir, "To be isolated is a fine thing and we are then nearer to nature. I can see how necessary it is to live always in the country--at all seasons of the year." (as quoted in John Henry Twachtman: An American Impressionist, p. 111)
These later works, including Hemlocks, also tend to be among the most artistically advanced paintings he produced. Here the landscape elements are simplified, almost abstracted. Twachtman compresses the foreground and background by using a high horizon line, bringing the viewer's eye to the center of the composition. From there, he leads us along the lines of the hills and the branches of the trees, forcing us to concentrate on the patterns of the landscape. Twachtman renders the composition in a cool palette of blues, pale pinks and chalky whites, painted with dash and seeming spontaneity.
In common with many of the artist's other late landscapes, Hemlocks shares a dream-like quality, enhanced by the artist's subtle equilibrium between his subject, tending toward abstraction, and his Impressionist technique. "His quietly spiritual images," writes Lisa Peters, "suggest the calming notion that art can provide a balance between the natural world and our perception of it." (John Henry Twachtman: An American Impressionist, p. 170) Perhaps more than most of his contemporaries, Twachtman approached the aesthetic unity of the composition with rigor and imagination.
As noted by Richard Boyle, Twachtman chose commonplace subjects as a starting point for a deeper investigation of nature. He also emphasizes the distinctiveness of Twachtman's form of Impressionism and the uniqueness of his legacy. "Twachtman achieves a subdued and subtle poetry which extends beyond the particular method that conveys it. It is Impressionism, yes; but it is not the lush, bold, and gregarious painting of the French or of such compatriots as Childe Hassam or Frank Benson. Twachtman's painting is full of 'contradiction and complexity.' A myriad of brushstrokes, a manifold set of colors and tones, combine somehow to give the impression of great simplicity; or, conversely, the rendering of a single tree or a pond or the glimpse of a small waterfall reveals an absorbing complexity of ideas and feelings. His pictures are often indicative of a kind of 'Less is more' philosophy; yet technically, they often embody the reverse as well." (John Twachtman, New York, 1988, pp. 17-18)
Through his art, Twachtman achieved a profound unity of subject and technique. He also established his most lasting legacy, a career that maintained both a mastery of nineteenth-century Impressionism, and a willingness to advance pure painting toward abstraction, hinting at developments to come in the twentieth century. Shortly after Twachtman's death in 1902, Thomas Wilmer Dewing remembered his friend by recognizing in his art "the most modern spirit...too modern, probably, to be recognized or appreciated at present; but his place will be recognized in the future." (as quoted in John Twachtman, p. 11)
This painting will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the work of John Twachtman by Ira Spanierman and Dr. Lisa N. Peters.