Of the many American painters drawn to the French village of Giverny, Theodore Robinson developed perhaps the most significant relationship with the master of Impressionism, Claude Monet. Robinson's paintings, such as The Little Bridge (The Brook), which he executed during his residency in Giverny from 1888-1892 , rank among the most enduring achievements of American Impressionism.
During his years in Giverny, Robinson developed a sophisticated Impressionist technique expressed in both landscapes and figural compositions. Whereas some of the landscapes of the fields around Giverny and of neighboring villages are rendered with tighter, crisper brushstrokes, his figural works of 1890-92 display his Impressionist style at its freest and most spontaneous. In paintings such as The Little Bridge (The Brook) Robinson often placed figures within the context of meadow, woods or gardens--quiet, light-dappled spaces that evoke the peacefulness and tranquility of the unspoiled countryside. These enclosed outdoor spaces also allowed Robinson to concentrate on the effects of sunlight and color as it filtered through trees or was reflected off the surface of a rushing, gurgling brook.
Robinson acquired a thorough understanding of the Impressionist work of Claude Monet, yet the American painter was not merely an imitator of the French master. Robinson absorbed Monet's theories and built on them to create works that reflected his personal style of Impressionism. S. Johnston has written, "He did not abstract the image before him as Monet had advised. With few exceptions his forms remain solid, firmly-defined, and the subject matter is always clearly identifiable. Although the degree of his initial devotion to Monet's Impressionism is obvious, his art demonstrates a selection and subsequent interpretation of those elements most sympathetic to his manner of expression." (Theordore Robinson, Baltimore, Maryland, 1973, p. xiv)
Robinson received positive critical response for his personal approach to Impressionistic style. Several years before he painted The Little Bridge (The Brook) a critic wrote in the Art Amateur, "Mr. Theodore Robinson is one of those who have really gained a good deal by study of impressionist methods . . . The narrowing of his aim in this case, as in so many others, has been the saving of the artist." And in 1893 the Art Amateur again praised his work: "Impressionism has many exponents, but no one else that appears to be quite so sure of himself or of his method as Mr. Theodore Robinson." And more than a decade after his death, the critic Christian Brinton praised Robinson's canvases, calling them "radiant masterpieces" and writing, "The pioneer American Impressionist painted modest themes--bits of winding canal, glimpses of white cottage nestled against green hillside, peasant girls musing under spreading apple boughs or stretched prone upon the grass. There is no pose, no hint of pretense here. Robinson went straight to the heart of the scene, however simple and unambitious it may have seemed. Out of little he made much. He painted light, air and colour. The purest lyric talent we have this far produced, he sang a song steeped in outdoor brightness and objective tranquility." ("American Painting at the Panama-Pacific Exposition," International Studio, August 1915, p. 30)
Unlike some American Impressionist painters working in Giverny who painted with bold palettes in strong primary colors, Theodore Robinson developed careful color harmonies that were exceptionally refined. The Little Bridge (The Brook) reveals how the artist composed the picture with a sensitive eye to the complexities of softer hues and half-tones. Blues and pinks are modulated against one another, and vivid touches of crimson are dabbed to enliven the surface. So masterful is Robinson's control of sunlight, shadow and color that the pair of ducks swimming in the pool at lower right goes almost unnoticed in the light-filled atmosphere that makes up the shimmering surface of the composition.
This painting will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist's work being compiled by Ira Spanierman and Sona Johnston.