Theodore Robinson (June 3, 1852 – April 2, 1896) was an American painter best known for his Impressionist landscapes. He was one of the first American artists to take up Impressionism in the late 1880s, visiting Giverny and developing a close friendship with Claude Monet. Several of his works are considered masterpieces of American Impressionism.
Robinson was born in Irasburg, Vermont. His family moved to Evansville, Wisconsin, and Robinson briefly studied art in Chicago. In 1874 he journeyed to New York City to attend classes at the National Academy of Design and the Art Students League.
In 1876 he traveled to Paris to study under Carolus-Duran and at the École des Beaux-Arts, with Jean-Léon Gérôme. He first exhibited his paintings at the 1877 Salon in Paris, and spent the summer of that year at Grez-sur-Loing.
After trips to Venice and Bologna, he returned to the United States in 1879 for several years. In 1881 he moved into a studio in New York and became a professional painter and art teacher. During this time Robinson painted in a realist manner, loosely brushed but not yet impressionistic, often depicting people engaged in quiet domestic or agrarian pursuits.
In 1884 Robinson returned to France where he lived for the next eight years, visiting America only occasionally. Robinson gravitated to Giverny, which had become a center of French impressionist art under the influence of Claude Monet.
Historians are unclear when Robinson met Monet, but by 1888 their friendship was enough for Robinson to move in next door to the famous impressionist. Robinson's art shifted to a more traditional impressionistic manner during this time, likely due to Monet's influence. While a number of American artists had gathered at Giverny, none were as close to Monet as Robinson. Monet offered advice to Robinson, and he likewise solicited Robinson for opinions on Monet's own works in progress.
Not only did he take to heart Monet´s theoretical admonitions and his requirement to portray the beauties and mystery of nature in a manner stringently truthful to one's personal vision, but he also studied works that were available to him in "The Master´s" studio. For instance, Capri, painted in 1890, was probably inspired by Monet´s paintings of the cliffs at Varengeville, Pourville, and Etretat and the rocks at Bell-Ile of the early 1880s.
At Giverny, Robinson painted what art historians regard as some of his finest works. These depicted the surrounding countryside in different weather, in the plein air tradition, sometimes with women shown in leisurely poses. An example of his mature work during this period is La Débâcle (1892) in the collection of Scripps College, Claremont California.
Robinson left France and Monet for the final time in 1892, although he meant to return. Back in America, Robinson obtained a teaching post with the Brooklyn Art School and conducted summer classes in Napanoch, New York, near the Catskill Mountains, where he painted several canal scenes. He also taught at Evelyn College in Princeton, New Jersey, and later at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia.
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