By Isabelle Celentano, marketing intern
Following the close of the Michener Art Museum’s exhibition Rae Sloan Bredin: Harmony and Power, I wanted to reflect on Bredin’s beautiful and pastoral paintings. On the first day of my summer internship, my mentor gave me a tour of the museum. When we arrived at the Putman Smith gallery, I was captivated by Bredin’s idyllic landscapes and portraits. To fully appreciate Bredin’s works, I started exploring the history of the artistic technique of painting out of doors commonly known as en plein air.
Beginning with the Barbizon school in mid-19th-century France, artists turned away from tradition and took their newly invented collapsible easels and portable tubes of paint outdoors. With their new-found freedom of painting outdoors, artists flocked to the Forest of Fontainebleau to paint amidst the heavily wooded landscape. Although the artists belonging to the Barbizon school varied in style, they universally believed that landscapes were a worthy subject matter for paintings. Thus, the emergence of en plein air painting by the Barbizon school catalyzed a new artistic movement that would eventually give rise to the Impressionist movement.
Although the Barbizon school introduced the technique of painting en plein air, it is most commonly associated with the works of the French impressionists during the second half of the 19th century. Artists such as Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, and Camille Pissarro united over their shared discontent with the annual Salon (the official art exhibition sponsored by the French government). Rejecting the aesthetic dictated by the French Academy, these Impressionists chose to depict scenes of modern life using quick brushstrokes and vivid colors. Instead of painting historical events or subjects from classical antiquity (like those commonly found at the Salon), the Impressionists focused on ordinary subjects, such as landscapes and scenes of bourgeois life. Famous for their unparalleled quick brushwork, emphasis on light, and vivid palettes, the Impressionists revolutionized the process of making art during the fin de siècle.
Adopting the style of French Impressionists and the appreciation for landscapes from the Barbizon school, Pennsylvania Impressionists sought to capture the beauty of landscape art during the first half of the 20th century. A short distance from the bustling cities of New York and Philadelphia, artists like William Langston Lathrop, Daniel Garber, and Edward Redfield traveled to Bucks County, taking refuge in the vibrant green landscape and tranquil lifestyle. Drawing inspiration from the
Delaware Valley, the artists depicted peaceful scenes and captured the fleeting light during all four seasons.
A notable Pennsylvania Impressionist, Rae Sloan Bredin (1881-1933) was a prominent member of the New Hope School. Unlike his contemporaries, Bredin not only captured the landscapes specific to Eastern Pennsylvania but also painted scenes of women and children in domestic settings. Although Bredin painted en plein air and used Impressionist techniques, he spent much more time completing his pieces when compared to his peers. Overall, Bredin’s work combines the philosophy of the Barbizon school and the style of the French Impressionists with the serenity and charm of Bucks County.
When I first saw Bredin’s Portrait of a Young Girl (c. 1920), I was struck by the overall beauty of the image. Bredin perfectly captures the innocence of the young child in the painting and places her in front of a backdrop of bright flowers and deep green foliage. He continues the floral theme by depicting the young girl with a fresh bouquet of flowers in her hand. As her gaze frankly confronts the viewer, her solemn expression draws us into her world. Her simple white dress enhances both her facial features and the vivid colors of the background. Bredin utilizes the element of light by casting it towards the young girl from the top right corner, highlighting her rosy cheeks and light eyes. A master of light and beauty, Bredin’s work invites the viewer to experience a powerful moment of peace, innocence, and tranquility.