Painted circa 1888, Summer Morning, Giverny is exemplary of Willard Leroy Metcalf's depictions of the agrarian nature of the area and the peasants who lived there. In it, a woman appears to have suspended her duty of raking hay to pick poppies on the side of a road, painted with dazzling color and vitality. Metcalf's mastery of light, color and pattern makes Summer Morning, Giverny a masterpiece of the artist's early foray into Impressionism.
By 1887, Metcalf had liberated his paint application to create more painterly, livelier surfaces and concentrated on the effects of bright sunlight, qualities clearly evident in Summer Morning, Giverny. Dr. William Gerdts notes, "Writers found him at his 'best when the sun shines' and admired 'the thin, colorless veil of air, which softens all outlines and subdues...every tint.' One reviewer allied him with the 'Impressionistic,' 'open-air' school, emphasizing Metcalf's capture of 'sunshine and the intangible air.'" (Monet's Giverny: An Impressionist Colony, New York, 1993, p. 49) Metcalf acquired a thorough understanding of Impressionism through the work of Claude Monet, yet the American painter was not merely an imitator of the French master. Metcalf absorbed Monet's theories and built on them to create works that reflected his own personal style of Impressionism. In Summer Morning, Giverny, Monet's influence is clearly evident in the broken, lively brushwork and the animated paint surface. The composition of Summer Morning, Giverny is dramatic and highly finished, using sweeping hues of blues, greens, yellows and reds within strong diagonals. This sophisticated handling of paint combined with a jewel-like palette emphasizes Metcalf's atmospheric effect of a sun-filled day.
The brightness in Summer Morning, Giverny, is manifested with clear, resplendent light--the hallmark of the greatest works of American Impressionism. Metcalf has animated the surface of the canvas with delicate touches of carefully modulated color. The palette is largely composed of soft blues, greens, and yellows. However the artist has warmed the overall tonality of the composition with vibrant touches of red. Sensitive to the complexities of softer hues and half-tones, Metcalf developed these refined color combinations to harmonize with subtlety. So masterful is the painter's control of sunlight and color that the surface of the composition shimmers with brilliance, yet each element such as the stand of trees, haystacks and figure remains distinct.
Discussing the present work, Elizabeth de Veer writes, "There could be no better evidence of this than his painting of an aged figure on a gently rising village road who bends over to pluck one more poppy to add to her bouquet. The great green and gold diamond of the hillside punctuated by the vertical counterpoint of haystacks, the cerulean sky, the ruddy buildings that pitch forward down the hill explode around the gray aproned woman with tremendous vitality. He did numerous small studies that summer that, in years to come, he would work lovingly, but none is as brilliant in color or as careless in uninhibited expansiveness as Summer Morning, Giverny. He had begun to develop the Monet 'eye.'" (Sunlight and Shadow: The Life and Art of Willard L. Metcalf, New York, 1987, pp. 45, 49)
This painting will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the works of Willard L. Metcalf by Ira Spanierman and Richard J. Boyle.