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Monday, October 4, 2010

The Impressionists were painters of light. While the modern movement originated in France with the famous plein-air (outdoor) painters such as Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, in America the movement resonated with the country’s budding patriotism and pride in the late 19th century. At a time when the promise of western expansion was igniting the curiosity and imagination of Americans, propelling them westward across the country’s magnificent spread, American artists turned to the practice of plein-air painting.

Among the most famous of Midwestern Impressionists was Theodore Clement Steele, a native of Indiana and member of the Hoosier School of painters. Born in Owen County, Indiana in 1847, Steele studied at the Royal Academy in Munich, Germany and then returned to the United States to pursue a career in portrait painting. After traveling through the southern Indiana landscape, Steele was inspired to purchase a studio and living space in Brookville, where his passion for landscape painting was reignited.

Steele’s work combines the charm of the Midwestern landscape with Impressionist themes of middle class leisure activities. Similar to the work of the French Impressionists, pieces like 16th Street, Indianapolis (Winter Morning) (seen below) reveal both a desire to capture a fleeting moment in nature, as the daylight radiates off the fallen snow, and a scene of everyday city life.

Image source: Indiana State Museum

One of the most beneficial aspects of painting en plein-air was the artists’ uninhibited access to the magnificence of nature. As seen in this piece entitled Autumn Morning, Steele’s Impressionist emphasis on light creates warm and inviting color palettes. His quick and highly visible brushstrokes evoke both his physical process of painting and the presence of the artist’s hand.

Image source: Indiana State Museum

All of Steele’s majestic Impressionist landscapes promote a sense of peace and tranquility, as man harmoniously co-exists with nature. While the landscapes primarily evoke the grandeur of the Indiana landscape, the presence of man is always felt, even if it is not explicitly shown. Unlike the dark warnings found in some Parisian Impressionist cityscapes that show the slow intrusion of pollution and the isolation of modern life, Steele’s landscapes boast a blissful relationship with a thriving natural world.

Researched and written by Emma Stein

Letsinger-Miller, Lyn. The Artists of Brown County. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1994.
Nesbit, M. Joanne, ed., Barbara Judd, comp. Those Brown County Artists: The Ones Who Came the Ones Who Stayed the Ones Who Moved On. Nashville: Nana’s Book, 1993.

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    Welcome to our blog site! MIR Appraisal Services, Inc. is a fine art and personal property appraisal company dedicated to serving clients throughout the United States and abroad since our incorporation in Chicago in 1994. We specialize in the multi-faceted field of appraising fine art, jewelry, antiques, and decorative items. We also provide professional fine art restoration and conservation treatment for various media, including but not limited to, artworks on canvas, board, masonite, and paper. We offer professional and precise appraisal services carried out by our team of accredited appraisers for the purposes of insurance coverage and claims, charitable donations, estate planning and probate, equitable distribution and fair-market value. We started our art commentary blog site as a venue for colleagues and fellow art enthusiasts to share their experiences within the art community.