Willard Leroy Metcalf painted Spring Study of Reeds in Chadwick's Garden at Grèz while living in France and studying the works of progressive European and American painters. Metcalf chose to paint outside of Paris in the French countryside village of Grez. There, in 1885, he composed Spring Study of Reeds in Chadwick's Garden at Grèz, one of the most avant-garde works this young painter would complete.
Elizabeth de Veer writes, "Grèz-sur-Loing, a small town southeast of Paris, was an artists' colony to be explored before [his] second year at [the Académie Julian]. The Loing, flowing through Grèz, was both subject and delightful object for Metcalf and his friends. Edward Simmons likened it to the Concord River, and in boats under the willows they visited fellow artists along its shore at Matigny, Marlotte, and Moret. Metcalf found the elegant attenuated trees on the surrounding plain appealing, as well as the often-depicted medieval bridge. It seems that he was welcomed by the Boston painter Francis Chadwick and his wife the Swedish painter Ella Lowestadt. Their village house had a blank facade, but behind it a garden sloped down to the Loing. During the next two years, Metcalf made several paintings in the garden, facing the water, that emphasize the delicate verticals of reeds opposing the lily pads on the water's surface." (Sunlight and Shadow: The Life of Willard L. Metcalf, Boston, Massachusetts, 1987, p. 36)
In its style and execution, Spring Study of Reeds in Chadwick's Garden at Grèz is a response to works of the American Impressionist painters whom Metcalf knew and admired. Yet at the same time, the composition contains all the elements that would become that hallmark of the painter's mature style. Metcalf selected a very limited palette of greens and soft browns, using delicate balances of tone to create an overall effect. His brushwork is feathery and loose--suggesting a Tonalist sensibility that artists such as John Henry Twachtman and Theodore Robinson were beginning to explore. Twachtman's great composition from this period, Arques-la-Bataille (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) had a profound impact on Metcalf, and Spring Study of Reeds in Chadwick's Garden at Grèz is clearly a response by the young artist to Twachtman's successful foray into an Impressionist style.
Always fascinated with the relationship between light and color, for the remainder of his long career Metcalf would continue to develop a subtle and delicate Impressionist style. Spring Study of Reeds in Chadwick's Garden at Grèz is a testament to this young artist's successful exploration of a new means of painting that reflected his highly personal style.
This painting will be included in the forthcoming Willard L. Metcalf catalogue raisonné authored by Dr. Bruce Chambers, Ira Spanierman, Dr. William H. Gerdts and Elizabeth de Veer.