Freeman’s Success with Pennsylvania Impressionists
Over the years, Freeman's has sold more works by the Pennsylvania Impressionists than any other house in the country. Dedicating an entire section to the group in each of their American Art auctions, Freeman's has achieved many record prices for artists in this category over time. In 2019, Freeman's sold 102 works by Pennsylvania Impressionists with a 92.3% sell-through rate. This season, the sale will feature the Collection of Heidi Bingham Stott, one of the finest selections of Pennsylvania Impressionists to ever come to auction.
The History of Pennsylvania Impressionism
In 1915, artist and critic Guy Pène du Bois (1844-1958) characterized Pennsylvania Impressionism (otherwise known as the New Hope School) as America’s “first truly national expression.” In addition to the purely American subject matter that the artists collectively chose to depict, each individual associated with the group developed their own independent style, freed from their European influence and prior training.
Turning away from urban scenes, the Pennsylvania Impressionists mainly drew their inspiration from sites along or near the Delaware River, notably the picturesque village of New Hope in Bucks County. Their renditions of the bucolic landscape were highly popular and publicly lauded. Throughout the 1910s and 1920s, the artists won major awards, sold their work to notable collectors and museums, and even sat on prestigious exhibition juries alongside national celebrities. Today, artwork by the Pennsylvania Impressionists is widely collected, and although a good number of oils can be admired in several institutions, many works still remain in private hands.
The Founding Fathers: William Lathrop (1859-1938) and Edward Redfield (1869-1965)
Pennsylvania Impressionism truly began in 1898 when William Langson Lathrop (1859-1938) arrived in Bucks County, settling at Phillips Mill where he became known for his Sunday afternoon teas. Although he often worked en plein air -- the manner of many future Pennsylvania Impressionists--, Lathrop also deemed it important to finish his paintings in the studio so as to draw upon memory. A true master of tonalist expression, Lathrop enjoyed exploring different ranges of a single hue of color instead of adopting a broad color palette; he also liked to put emphasis on atmosphere and mood, as exemplified by The Bonfire (Lot 39), which is imbued with a sense of mystery.
The work is in fact at the crosswords of two genres: ablaze in light and color (in that sense decidedly impressionistic) yet very much imbued with the poetic solitude of Tonalism. Lathrop was deeply sensitive to the struggle between man and nature. Here, the minuteness of the two men gathering around the bonfire evokes the humility and deference of mankind when faced with the grandeur of nature.
Although Lathrop was the first to settle in Bucks County, Edward Redfield is generally acknowledged as the stylistic leader of the New Hope painters. His vigorously realistic, unsentimental brand of Impressionism influenced several future generations of artists. Redfield studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and spent several years in France before settling in Centre Bridge, where he developed his own style made of dense impastos and a certain bravura and passion for plein air. As the artist put it, "When I first began to work, most artists used models in studios. What I wanted to do was to go outdoors and capture the look of a scene, whether it was a brook or a bridge, as it looked on a certain day."
Although he had a penchant for winter compositions (most often set in Bucks County but sometimes also inspired by different locales as exemplified by Blue Ridge Mountain (Lot 69) set in the Poconos), Redfield also painted numerous spring scenes in the 1910s and throughout the 1920s. Spring at Point Pleasant along the Delaware River (Lot 40) and The Peaceful Valley (Lot 57) are two of the artist's largest compositions, which both contain all the hallmarks of his celebrated style.
Both executed en plein air and "at one go" for about seven continuous hours, the two paintings use thick and short brushstrokes to depict a plunging view of the Delaware River from the artist's studio in Point Pleasant. Redfield's familiarity with landscape painting, paired with his bold and swift application of paint, provide an Impressionistic and all the more truthful depiction of his beloved surroundings. The scene abounds with brightness and life; through colorful and contrasting hues, the artist is able to convey the bursting and reinvigorating feeling of spring, thus tempting the viewer to walk right into the picture plane and enjoy the warmth of a peaceful, sunny day.
The Second Wave: Daniel Garber (1880-1958), George Sotter (1879-1953) and Fern Coppedge (1883-1951)
In 1907, Daniel Garber and his family moved from Philadelphia to a farmhouse in Cuttalossa, just outside Lumberville that he discovered thanks to the help of William Lathrop and his wife, Annie. Just a short distance from the Delaware River, this idyllic setting provided inspiration and subject matter for Garber's lyrical landscapes and figural paintings. Like Redfield, Garber preferred to paint directly from nature. His work can at times evoke a sense of mysticism, with a palette that ranges from the brilliant blues, greens and yellows of his river scenes, to the rusts and browns of his autumnal farm and quarry pieces. Rodger's Meadow (Lot 44), September Morning (Lot 45) and Autumn, Solebury (Lot 46) are all overlaid with a unifying expanse of delicate, finely detailed brushstrokes.
Rodger's Meadow is an important work by the artist, executed at a moment when he turned from his previously large decorative compositions to focus on smaller works that present the viewer with a more intimate and personal representation of his beloved Bucks County. Earlier in his career, Garber explored Pennsylvania at large, but during the 1920s, the artist increasingly began to paint more local subjects, immersing himself in the daily life of his neighbors. As such, houses, mills and barns, including the one in the present example, started to populate the artist's repertoire. By incorporating these subjects, Garber not only aimed to use a common landscape to represent a simpler way of living, but also wanted to celebrate the ordinary men and women he befriended--those constantly plowing, planting and storing the land around them.
George Sotter visited Redfield and Lathrop in New Hope as early as 1902. Soon thereafter, he was invited to become Redfield's student at his home in Centre Bridge, where he started painting under his tutelage. Pennsylvania Impressionism revolved around a plein-air technique and first-hand observation of light; however, George Sotter proved that such principles could be extended beyond daytime. Indeed, the artist is best known for his poetic and serene winter nocturne scenes, which usually feature quaint hamlets or solitary houses blanketed in snow and bathed in soothing moonlight. These works generated incredible interest among the artist's collectors and critics, who still cherish them for their romanticism and deeper significance.
With its thick impasto and quick Impressionistic touch, Moonlit Stream (Lot 41) reveals the great influence of Edward Redfield's painting on Sotter's early work. Sotter here focuses on the pearlescent atmospheric tones of the night scene, which becomes imbued with a sense of stillness, and even nostalgia. With Carversville House (Lot 42), however, which was executed a decade afterwards, Sotter gives way to a richer palette and a more polished, blended approach to paint application - using deeper blues and adding purples to evoke an even darker, quieter winter night. Through his accomplished technique and without any theatrical effects, Sotter makes the landscape palpable and demonstrates the romanticism and the poetic force of a simple winter night.
Although James A. Michener predicted, "I can't see Garber and Lathrop and Redfield bothering much with women on a serious note. I think they would have been standoffish," Fern Coppedge rose as one of the most renowned Pennsylvania Impressionist artists. A student of Garber until 1918 and an important member of the all-women Philadelphia Ten, Coppedge divided her time between Lumberville and Philadelphia until 1929, when she permanently moved to New Hope.
Coppedge’s work features a bold, prismatic palette and her style is made of simplified, flatter shapes. According to Michele Stricker, her canvases (whether they depict a highly contrasted snowy landscape or a lovely spring day by the Delaware River as shown in Spring by the Delaware River (Lot 74)) can easily be compared to medieval tapestries and mosaics due to their use of color rooted "less in nature and more in her imagination."
Pennsylvania Impressionism was born within the limits of Bucks County, and artists undoubtedly produced their best work in that region. Many of the artists, though, also travelled and produced works outside of the state. Coppedge, for example, frequented Gloucester, MA, where she spent almost all of her summers. The pictures she painted there, such as Tidewater Glow (Lot 53), display the lively bright palette of the shimmering sea and engulfed sailboats, as well as the lush nature on the embankments. Contrary to her male counterparts who almost all trained at least partially in France, Coppedge did not formally study in Europe.
In the summer of 1925, however, at the age of forty-two, the artist embarked on a two-month trip to Europe and visited Italy for the first time, stationing in Florence where she painted Florentine Gold (Lot 43), a mesmerising rendering of the artist's view from her balcony.
A New Breath: John Folinsbee (1892-1972) and Walter Baum (1884-1956)
John Folinsbee was first introduced to the Bucks County region by Lovell Birge Harrison (1854-1929), and he then settled in New Hope in 1916, not far from where Fern Coppedge would also stay. Despite an adolescent bout with polio that confined him to a wheelchair, Folinsbee fully embraced the plein air tradition.
Although his primary subjects were landscapes, Folinsbee was also fascinated with scenes of everyday life that offered interesting pictorial possibilities. This is exemplified by The White Tent (Lot 49), an early work from 1913, in which the artist used the pretext of a white circus tent juxtaposed against the bright orange of the wagons and supporting poles to relay a sense of movement and balanced design. Folinsbee later developed an acute sensitivity to the role of water within the landscape and could often be found on the metal bridge spanning the Delaware River between New Hope, PA and Lambertville, NJ.
Robert's Mill (Lot 66) is an incisive portrait of the gentle, frozen flow of the Delaware River. The waterway, depicted in thick and assured strokes applied with a palette knife, is brought from the background into the foreground, becoming the primary focus of the composition. Sharp diagonals of white and purple invigorate the painting, underscoring the force and power of the river, even under extreme conditions.
Although he was technically part of the first generation of painters who established themselves along the Delaware River (he was, in fact, the only native to the county), Walter Baum played an important role in expanding Pennsylvania Impressionism beyond the frontiers of Bucks County. He introduced his art to the audience of Lehigh County, and later founded Allentown Art Museum and the Baum School of Art in Allentown.
Like Redfield, Baum preferred to paint directly from nature and to depict winter, as exemplified by Lots 56, 58 and 72 - all snow scenes captured in the same thick brushwork with an emphasis on bright, sometimes arbitrary, hues.
American Art & Pennsylvania Impressionists: Featuring the Collection of Heidi Bingham Stott
Auction June 14 | 2PM EST