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The Trout Brook

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The Trout Brook

oil on canvas
26 in. x 29 1/8 in. (66.04 cm x 73.98 cm)
Bequest of Louisa A. Wells, 1945.4.1

Willard L. Metcalf

When it first appeared in New York in a 1909 one-man exhibition at the Montross Gallery, Willard Metcalf's The Trout Brook moved critics to poetry: "It is as if he plucked a violet from its springtime bed and incorporated its shy loveliness on his canvas, for the running brook is of violet hue and the tender green of the new grass has just the hue of the bud's surrounding leaves…" (New York American, January 2, 1909). The Montross Gallery was a prestigious venue; the significance of The Trout Brook can be further measured by the number of important exhibitions of contemporary art in which it appeared. It had been displayed at the annual exhibition of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia in 1908 and would be included in an exhibition of The Ten American Painters (an Impressionist group) held in the spring of 1909 at the Copley Gallery in Boston. There it was praised by the Christian Science Monitor for its "bright green banks, rolling hills, and tender-toned trees" (April 17, 1909). The enthusiastic reception of this painting was indicative of the increasing esteem in which Metcalf's work was held. In subsequent years, his paintings won numerous awards and honors and were sought after by many discerning collectors.

The Trout Brook was painted in Old Lyme, Connecticut, a popular artists' colony where Metcalf spent the summers of 1905-07. The quiet simplicity of this New England town was something of a departure for Metcalf, who earlier in his career had preferred more exotic painting locales: the American Southwest, Brittany, Tunisia, and Morocco. In the 1890s, he had been active as a teacher and portrait painter in New York, and he was a founding member of The Ten American Painters, a group that also included Childe Hassam (q.v.) and Frank Benson (q.v.). But around 1903, he retreated to his parents' farm in Maine and dedicated himself almost exclusively to landscape painting; he soon became known for views of the New England countryside rendered in an Impressionist style. He spoke of this late development in his career-he was by this time forty-five-as his "renaissance," and it led to increased fame and financial security. A 1906 exhibition of his Old Lyme landscapes at Boston's St. Botolph Club nearly sold out.
May Night, a painting produced the year before The Trout Brook, won the Gold Medal and a one-thousand-dollar prize at the Corcoran Gallery of Art and was subsequently bought by the Corcoran for three thousand dollars. The success of this picture encouraged numerous other artists to come to Old Lyme to paint and reinforced Metcalf's interest in depicting the pastures and farmlands of southern Connecticut.

In The Trout Brook, Metcalf shows a rocky hillside in late spring, the soft light and the lacy, light green foliage of the trees being ideal vehicles for Metcalf's Impressionistic technique. The canvas is nearly square, and Metcalf's composition recalls the Impressionists' penchant for unconventional views. Here the horizon line is high, and the meandering stream leads the eye back through the gently ascending terrain. A few cows graze placidly at right, and an old, low, stone fence zigzags through the middle distance, a reminder of Connecticut's colonial past. Except for the deep violet-blue of the stream, Metcalf's colors are pale and cool. The air seems crisp, the temperature brisk. The setting is unspectacular; however, Metcalf has so skillfully recreated the quiet pleasure of coming upon such a scene that even Connecticut's boulder-strewn fields seem to possess a special beauty.



Connecticut and American Impressionism. Ex. cat. William Benton Museum of Art, University of Connecticut, Storrs, 1980.

1908 Montross Gallery, New York, NY, "Exhibition of Pictures by Willard L. Metcalf." Jan. 2 - 18, no. 10.

1908 Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA, "Ten American Painters." April 11 - May, no. 53.

1909 Copley Society, Boston, MA, "Ten American Painters." April 12 - 24.

1935 Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, NH, "American Painters Memorial Exhibition Since 1900." March.

1966 University of New Hampshire, Paul Creative Arts Center, Durham, NH, "A Century of American Art, 1866-1966." Jan. 15 - Feb. 15.

1972 Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, NH, "Buried Treasure." Jan. 15 - Feb. 20.

1976-1977 "Willard L. Metcalf, Retrospective." Organized by Springfield Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, MA. Traveled to: Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute, Utica, NY, Sept. 5 - Oct. 10, 1976; Springfield Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, MA, Oct. 24 - Dec. 26, 1976; Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, NH, Jan. 14 - March 6, 1977; Hunter Museum of Art, Chattanooga, TN, April 3 - May 15, 1977.

1978 Danforth Museum, Framingham, MA, "American Impressionist Paintings." Jan 21 - March 6.

1980 William Benton Museum of Art, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT, "The Artists and the Landscape." March 17 - May 30, no. 47.

1986 Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, ME, "Masterpieces from the Currier Gallery of Art." Sept. 11 - Nov. 2.

1987-1988 Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, Washington, DC, "New Horizons: American Painting 1840-1910." June 1, 1987 - Sept 1, 1988.

1993 Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, NH, "American Impressionist Painting." Aug. 31 - Nov. 28.

1995-1997 "American Art from the Currier Gallery of Art." Organized by the Currier Gallery of Art and the American Federation of Arts. Traveled to: Orlando Museum of Art, Orlando, FL, Dec. 3, 1995 - Jan. 28, 1996; Society of the Four Arts, Palm Beach, FL, Mar. 15 - Apr. 7, 1996; Art Museum of Western Virginia, Roanoke, VA, Aug. 10 - Oct. 13, 1996; The Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Memphis, TN, Feb. 2 - Mar. 30, 1997; Frye Art Museum, Seattle, WA, Apr. 25 - June 22, 1997; Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, NH, July 18 - Sept. 8, 1997, cat. no. 26.

2005 Florence Griswold Museum, Old Lyme, CT, "May Night: Willard Metcalf in Old Lyme, Connecticut, 1905-1907." May 1 - Sept. 11, plate 15.

2006-2007 Portland Museum of Art, Portland, ME, "Masterpieces from the Currier Museum of Art." Sept. 2006 - Oct. 1, 2007.

2017 Currier Museum of Art. "Monet: Pathways to Impressionism" July 1- Nov. 13.

2018 "The Cornish Colony" Currier Museum of Art, Feb. 10 - May 20.

Copley Gallery, Boston, MA
F.W. Bayley,1909
Milch Gallery,
Louisa A. Wells
Bequest to Currier Gallery of Art, 1945

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