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19th Century Americans Artists who fell under the spell of French Impressionism

In the late 19th century, Paris was the happening place in the art world. The revolutionary impressionism art movement was shaking the status quo and causing a lot of noise for better or for worse! Art critics, collectors and the Paris Salon scorned the impressionism painters. However these revolutionary impressionists continued with their new art form, catching the attention of many 19th century American artists.

Theodore Earl Butler one of the 19th century American artists who embraced impressionism
Impressionism painting by the American painter Theodore Earl Butler

Anyone wanting to be a respected artist made their way to Paris! This included some 19th century American artists !

In the 19th century, to become a respected artist, painters felt that they needed to further their art studies in the prestigious art schools of Europe.

The American artists who went to Paris in the 19th century include Frederick Carl Frieseke, Theodore Earl Butler, Guy Rose,  Willard Metcalf, Jane Peterson, Lilla Cabot Perry and others. Many of them studied formal painting at the prestigious Julian Academy in Paris. Later some of them fell under the spell of Claude Monet in Giverny, establishing and participating in the Giverny art colony.

When the First World War broke out in 1914, some of these Americans returned home. However, they continued to paint American scenes using the techniques and bright colors of the French Impressionists.

So who were the 19th century American artists who embraced French Impressionism?

Guy Orlando Rose (American, 1867–1925)

Guy Orlando Rose is recognized as one of California’s top impressionist painters of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Rose grew up in Southern California. When he was nine years old, he was accidentally shot in the face while hunting with his brothers. It was during his recuperation period that he began drawing and painting.

After finishing high school Rose started art lessons at the California School of Design. However at the age of 21, Guy Rose decided to move to Paris, the epicenter of the art world. He enrolled into the Academy Julian in Paris.

Guy Orlando Rose Painting - Americans in France
River Epte Giverny – Guy Orlando Rose Painting

After his studies he returned to America but came back to France ten years later, this time with his wife. They bought a cottage in Giverny and the couple lived there until 1912. It was during this period that he studied under Claude Monet and developed his Impressionism style.

In 1914, Rose and his wife returned to Los Angeles. He taught and served as Director of the Stickney Memorial School of Art in Pasadena. In 1921 he suffered a debilitating stroke that left him paralyzed. Guy Rose died in Pasadena, California on November 17, 1925.

Frederick Carl Frieseke (American 1874 – 1939)

Frederick Carl Frieseke was born in 1874 in the small Michigan town called Owosso. He showed artistic talent at an early age. He worked as a cartoonist for the New York Times but left the States for Paris 1n 1898 when he was in his early twenties.

In Paris, Frieseke enrolled into the highly respected Julian Academy to further his art studies.

Around 1900 Frieseke spent his summers in the small village of Giverny. In 1906 he rented a house next to Claude Monet’s home. Under the influence of Monet, Frieseke painted with a brighter palette of colors.

By 1901, Frieseke was gaining recognition and success in France, Europe and around the world! His paintings sold, he was awarded medals and he participated in prestigious exhibitions around the world.

Frederick Carl Frieseke - One of the 19th century American artists who adopted French Impressionism
Frederick Carl Frieseke Painting – House in Giverny 1912

Frederick Carl Frieseke moved to Le Mesnil-sur-Blangy in Normandy in 1922, and although he thought about returning to America permanently, he died at his farmhouse at the age of 65.

Theodore Earl Butler (1861–1936)

Theodore Earl Butler was born in Ohio in 1861. He studied under William Merritt Chase at the Art Students League from 1884 for two years. At the age of 26, Butler traveled to Paris to study painting at the Julian Academy. His talent was evident early and Butler quickly established himself in the Parisian art circles.

Only one year after living in Paris, Butler exhibited at the Paris Salon, an incredible achievement for any painter and even more significant for an American.

Theodore Earl Butler impressionism painting
Theodore Earl Butler – one of the 19th century American artists who adopted impressionism

Butler becomes Claude Monet’s Son-in-Law

Butler’s beautiful paintings caught the attention of the Impressionist master Claude Monet. Monet invited Butler for dinner in this home in Giverny and they became lifelong friends and eventually family.

Butler returned briefly to America in order to spend time with his sick father.  However he soon after returned to France and settled down permanently in Giverny. He married Claude Monet’s stepdaughter, Suzanne. While married to Suzanne, Butler left landscape painting and painted his wife and children.

Claude Monet’s impressionism style influenced his son-in-law. We can imagine the two artists spending many hours together painting in Monet’s garden and enjoying family life.

After Suzanne’s untimely death, Butler returned to landscape painting. Suzanne’s sister, Marthe, helped Butler care for his children (her niece and nephew). They eventually married.

Inspired by Monet, Butler also became an avid gardener and established his own magnificent gardens. His own Giverny estate became a popular meeting place for Americans in France.

In his later years, Butler experimented with the post-impressionism style of Fauvism, using bold and unnatural colors.

Theodore Earl Butler - one of the 19th century American artists
Theodore Earl Butler painting – Fauvism Style

The American Impressionist painter, Theodore Earl Butler , died in Giverny at the age of 65. Throughout his years in Giverny, Butler was an important link between the American and French Impressionism painters.

Willard Metcalf (1858 – 1925)

Willard Leroy Metcalf was born 1 July 1858 in Lowell, Massachusetts. He showed artistic talent in his early years. His parents encouraged him to further his art studies. Metcalf first started as an apprentice to a wood engraver and later as a student of the reputable portrait and landscape painter George Loring Brown. Later, Metcalf became the first student to receive a scholarship to the Museum of Fine Arts school, which he attended for one year from 1877 to 1878.

Matcalf Moves to Paris

At the age of 25, Metcalf traveled to Paris to study at the famous art school, the Julian Academy. Here in Paris, Metcalf was exposed primarily to traditional painting. It wasn’t until he visited Giverny, the home of Impressionist painter Claude Monet, that his style changed to the softer and brighter colors of Impressionism.

As his style changed to impressionism, Metcalf spent time travelling and painting en-plein air the picturesque landscapes of Brittany and Normandy.

Williard Metcalf Impressionism Painting - one of the 19th century American artists
Landscape in France – Williard Metcalf Painting

Metcalf continues to promote Impressionism back when he returns to America

In 1889, Metcalf returned to America and eventually settled down Maine in 1903. During his years in picturesque Maine, Metcalf painted his iconic impressionism landscapes, capturing the changing seasons and the colors of nature. He became one of the founders of The Ten, a group of Boston and New York painters pioneering and promoting impressionism in America.

Metcalf received numerous awards for his beautiful paintings. However he suffered from alcoholism, poor health and a sense of failure towards the end of his life. Ironically, he painted some of his most beautiful paintings in these years.

Metcalf died on 8 March 1925 in New York City. 

Willard Leroy Metcalf - one of the 19th century American artists
The Sunny Brook, Chester, Vermont – Willard Metcalf Impressionism Painting

Giverny – The art colony established by the American Impressionists

In the late 19th century, literally thousands of American artists came to Paris for its prestigious and more contemporary art schools. While many Americans came to France to study in Paris, some spent the summer months in some of the quaint rural French towns. Small art communes full of American artists popped up all over the place.

One of the better known 19th century art colonies was in Giverny. A large number of American artists swarmed to this quaint village in an attempt to learn the techniques of the Impressionism master, Claude Monet. The picturesque landscapes of Giverny and its surroundings were also perfect for plein-air painting, providing ample subject matter for the artists.

Claude Monet’s presence drew the Americans in France to Giverny

The beginnings of the Giverny art colony date back to 1887. A small number of American painters, including Theodore Wendel, Willard Metcalf, John Leslie Breck and Louis Ritter “discovered” the village. Other American artists soon followed and some even stayed on way long after the summer months ended.

A Scene of Plein air painting
A Scene of Plein air painting

Many Americans had already heard of the revolutionary painter, Claude Monet, as Monet had already made a name for himself in America. Monet was living in his beautiful home in Giverny and his presence in this village was a major attraction. The American artists who came to this village wanted to emulate Monet’s painting techniques.

In the beginning, Monet welcomed the American painters but he did not involve himself in any teaching role. Monet preferred to keep to himself as he only cared for his own painting, gardening and personal life.

Painting by one of the Americans in France - John Singer Sargent
Claude Monet Painting in Giverny village – Painting by John Singer Sargent

Over 100 years later, Monet continues to bring the masses to Giverny

Giverny is a lovely little village on the Seine, 74 km (46 miles) northwest of Paris, located on the border between the regions of Île-de-France and Normandy.

The tourists and artists continue to flock to Giverny but mainly to visit Claude Monet’s house and gardens which are open to the public. However, there are other great sites in Giverny that shouldn’t be missed!

Below are details about the top three sites to visit.

Claude Monet Fondation

The “House and Gardens of Claude Monet” are also known as the Claude Monet Fondation. It is Giverny’s main attraction, drawing over 500,000 visitors every year!

Monet’s gardens were the subject of many of his later paintings, and in particular his iconic water lilies. When visiting his gardens, you will feel like you are walking into a Monet painting. It is magical! For more information about the Monet Fondation, press here.

Claude Monet Fondation
Monet’s house in Giverny

Giverny Museum of Impressionists

The second best attraction in Giverny is the Museum of Impressionists. This beautiful museum is located next to Monet’s house and gardens. The museum’s collection allows you to follow the revolutionary artistic movement that challenged conventions in its time.

The museum focuses on all aspects of impressionism, its history and its development into other art movements. Here you will not view Claude Monet paintings but artworks by painters who were inspired by him.

The museum also hosts wonderful temporary exhibitions. Press here to check out what is currently showing.

Giverny - Musee des Impressionnismes
Giverny – Musee des Impressionnismes

Stroll the pretty streets of Giverny

Giverny itself is a picturesque village worthy of exploring. The town is dotted with rustic country homes that are just as beautiful as Monet’s estate. This picturesque French village continues to attract the modern day impressionists who display their artworks in small private galleries scattered everywhere!

Giverny village
Quaint Giverny village

How to Get to Giverny From Paris:

From Paris go to the Gare Saint-Lazare  station and catch the train to the town of Vernon. The train leaves every hourand takes around 45 minutes.

Get off at Vernon station which is around 7 kilometers (4 miles) from Giverny. To get to Giverny village you have a few options:

  • Shuttle buses (navette) meet all trains and go directly to Giverny. You can buy your ticket on board the bus for either a single ride (4€) or a round trip (8€).
  • The regular bus takes about 10-15 minutes. From the bus stop, it’s about a 5-10 minute walk to the entrance to Monet’s house and gardens, where you buy your admission ticket.
  • You can also rent a bicycle from a café across from the train station and cycle along the bike path to the Monet house.
  • Another option is to walk the 5km (3 miles) along the path.

Looking for Organized Tours to Giverny from Paris? Check out these fabulous options!

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For more articles about the 19th century American artists who came to France & fully embraced French impressionism, see below:​