You already know Claude Monet and Giverny.
The French Impressionist made the village of Normandy, France, his home from 1883 until his death in 1926. He painted water lilies, church spiers and haystacks, becoming almost synonymous with Giverny in the how Georgia O’Keeffe is related to the American Southwest and Andy Warhol is related to New York.
The pastoral beauty that attracted Monet attracted other artists. “During the 1880s and 90s there were something like 300 artists at Giverny,” said Jonathan Stuhlman, senior curator of American art at the Mint Museum. “It really has become a destination.
John Leslie Breck is one of those who settle there.
“I would say that Breck is the last great American impressionist to have never had a solo exhibition in a museum or a monograph on him, ”Stuhlman said. “We are very happy to be the pioneers of both.
When the Mint opens “John Leslie Breck: American Impressionist” on September 18, the museum plans to give Breck his due. Other American impressionists (John Singer Sargent, Childe Hassam and Mary Cassatt) are better known. But it was Breck who introduced Impressionism to the United States, via his native Boston, in 1890 after his return from Giverny.
A life cut short
He died nine years later, just before his 39th birthday, of gas poisoning. Researchers believe it was suicide. “There is an element of tragedy in his life,” Stuhlman said. He never married, had no children and always traveled with his mother. She was with him at Giverny.
“When he first brought his paintings (from France), they met with mixed critical success,” Stuhlman said. “After a few years he became known as the ‘American Impressionist’ around Boston. But he never really burst onto the New York art scene. It just wasn’t fully accepted.
“There is a debate as to who happened to Giverny after Monet,” Stuhlman said. “Breck was certainly part of the first large group of seven or eight North Americans – there was also a Canadian in the mix – to arrive. They all got there, for the most part, in 1887, and Breck stayed on the longest – almost three years. He even stayed during the winters, which few of them did.
“American Impressionism lagged behind European Impressionism in scholarship and study,” Stuhlman said. “But the American public got used to it faster than the European public and critics.”
Despite all its popularity now, Impressionism was not worshiped at first.
“It’s so popular today,” Stuhlman said. “And in our eyes, these are pretty pleasing images. But in their day, the Impressionists were first vilified. The paintings were thought to lack academic finish. It’s interesting how times and tastes change.
Breck comes to the Mint
Breck is not a household name, and he is not necessarily well known in art history circles. Stuhlman first heard of him in the 1990s, while working at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Most of his works are preserved by Breck’s descendants, so they are rarely offered for sale.
“They had a wonderful landscape of Breck on the Charles River. The Virginia Museum painting, as far as I know, is the first ever purchased by a museum.
This landscape was anchored in Stuhlman’s memory. When the Mint’s aide approached him in 2015 to acquire “a classic American painting,” he knew exactly which artist he wanted.
La Monnaie purchased “Suzanne Hoschedé-Monet Sewing” from Breck in 2016. This acquisition prompted Stuhlman to start planning a solo exhibition of the almost forgotten artist’s works.
The exhibition includes 70 of Breck’s works, drawn from public and private collections, as well as the Terra Foundation – “a museum without walls”. Ten works by Beck’s American contemporaries complete the exhibition.
Hoschedé-Monet, the subject of Breck de la Monnaie, was the eldest daughter of Alice and Ernest Hoschedé and – most importantly for art history – Monet’s daughter-in-law and favorite model. She then married the American impressionist Theodore Earl Butler.
When you see Breck’s version of Hoschedé-Monet, it probably won’t be the first time you’ll see his likeness. She is the “Woman with a Parasol, Facing Left” in Monet’s 1886 painting. (Women with parasols was a favorite theme of the Impressionists.)
Breck also left his mark on Giverny. “He encouraged the owners of the little cafe and grocery store to turn it into a hostel with artist studios and it became… the social hub of the city,” Stuhlman said. Breck may have accidentally pioneered the popular coworking space today.
He also “spent time with Monet’s daughters-in-law,” Stuhlman said. “They were going to ice skate and dance – and he got close to Monet too. We have strong evidence that they painted side by side in Monet’s gardens. There is a painting by Breck in the exhibition – ‘Chez M. Monet’ – which depicts Monet at work on a canvas with another of his daughters-in-law, Blanche, working on his own painting.
A stroll through time
The exhibition unfolds chronologically since Breck’s arrival in Giverny.
“We’re bringing him back to America and showing the paintings he did in the Boston area around the Charles River,” Stuhlman said. “He took a trip to California, and there are three paintings from that period. There is a small series from central Massachusetts – his family had a place there – a small part of a stay with friends in Maine, and his last big trip was to Venice. He produced a series of great works towards the end of his career, based on his trip to Venice.
Tim Parati, a local artist and set designer, created scenes on the gallery walls to help convey a sense of place and scale, Stuhlman said. “In some cases he took some of Breck’s paintings and traced the outlines of the shapes,” Stuhlman said. “It’s very subtle.”
“Tim did the same sort of thing when he worked with us on our Tony DiTerlizzi show“ Never Give Up The Imagination: Tony DiTerlizzi’s Fantastic Art ”“ in 2019. “His murals will point you towards the world. ‘place where Breck’s works were painted – you I look down the street in Germany (where Breck’s European stay began), looking at the Massachusetts coast or a lighthouse there. He painted piles. cereal scale – they are about 9 feet tall.
Almost every painting is a landscape. “We encourage people to think about their relationship with the landscape,” Stuhlman said.
While the exhibit was planned long before anyone had heard of COVID-19, what the virus has done for the great outdoors is linked to the show.
“Over the past 18 months, we have seen a surge in the use of parks and outdoor activities,” he said. “People really enjoyed a break from their homes. We have a great map of the various parks and green spaces in Mecklenburg County and encourage people to get out and explore.
“John Leslie Breck: American Impressionist” will be on view from September 18 to January 2, 2022. For more information, visit mintmuseum.org.
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