By Elizabeth Johns
Special to The Herald-Mail
“New England Afternoon” radiates the bright yellows and greens of summer. A dark, sinuous creek leads the viewer into the landscape through a foreground dotted with livestock. Blue-tinged mountains in the far distance, a church steeple in the background and a sky filled with scudding clouds — typical New England characteristics — give the scene its sweeping scale. Willard Metcalf’s high point of view and the nearly square canvas (popular at the time) create a deep space, which the delicate, short brushstrokes fill with a pleasant softness.
Metcalf was not honored until late in his life as a leading American Impressionist, and thus one of the more conservative painters of his era. He brought to his landscapes a palette and techniques that he had learned in France.
Born in Lowell, Mass., in 1858, to a working-class family with a long New England heritage. He first studied art at night school at the Massachusetts Normal Art School in Boston in 1874, and then worked for years as a magazine illustrator to afford a trip to Europe to study.
Once in France in 1883, Metcalf spent five years at the Academie Julian in Paris and made numerous trips to the French countryside, where he admired the work of Claude Monet (1840-1926) and other Impressionists.
After he returned to the U.S., Metcalf painted in a variety of locations, always trying to attract patronage — Old Lyme, Conn., Cornish, N.H., Deerfield, Mass., and Kennebunkport, Maine. The landscapes of New England were his favorite subjects.
In 1898, finally recognized as a major artist, Metcalf joined Childe Hassam (1859-1935) and others to form the Ten, a group of American artists in New York who modeled their practice on the outdoor Impressionist painting of the French.
The founder of the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, William Henry Singer Jr., himself a painter, occasionally joined Metcalf at Old Lyme. The two found that they liked to paint together. Metcalf and the Singers became good friends.
In 1913 Metcalf and his wife journeyed to Norway to visit the Singers. and gave them several paintings, “New England Afternoon” was among them. The Singers presented it to the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts in 1931, and it is one of the most beloved paintings returning to view today as part of the museum’s rededication and ribbon cutting for the grand re-opening and re-dedication of the Singer Memorial Gallery.
Elizabeth Johns is professor emerita in art history from the University of Pennsylvania and a Trustee of the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts.
If you go ...
WHAT: Ribbon cutting, rededication and reception
WHERE: Singer Memorial Gallery, Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, off Virginia Avenue, City Park, Hagerstown
WHEN: Sunday, June 9; reception 2 to 4 p.m., ribbon cutting ceremony 2:30 p.m.
CONTACT: Go to www.wcmfa.org