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The Beginnings of the French Impressionist Art Movement

It was in the late 19th century that the impressionist art movement emerged. This new avant garde movement was not accepted initially in the Paris art world. In fact, for quite a long time, the art critics, the prestigious Paris Salon and the art patrons scorned and ridiculed these new artists. However, the impressionism painters were determined and continued to paint with their bright and colorful landscapes en plein air.

The Impressionist Art Movement & the Giverny art colony
The Impressionist Art Movement & the Giverny art colony

Even the Americans Heard about the Crazy Impressionism Painters

In time, the world started hearing about the impressionism painters, even as far as the United States. Many American artists travelled to France to further their art studies in the prestigious Parisian art schools. However, some of them fell under the spell of the impressionists and a handful even moved to Giverny to be close the impressionist master himself, Claude Monet. The American artists established the Giverny artist colony.

Claude Monet painting - Impressionist art movement
Claude Monet painting – Garden in Giverny

The Artists bring French Impressionism to America

When World War One broke out in 1914, many of the American artists living in Giverny returned home. In America, many of these artists continued to paint in the French Impressionism style, translating what they learned with beautiful American landscapes.

A few notable American painters who joined the Impressionist Art Movement in Giverny, include:

Louise Paul Dessar (1867 – 1952)

Louis Paul Dessar was born in Indianapolis. To the dismay of his family, Dessar decided to pursue an art career. He studied in America and then travelled to Paris to further his art training at the prestigious Académie Julian and then at the official École des Beaux-Arts.

During the summers between 1887 and 1891, Dessar travelled extensively. He sketched & painted his travels in London, the Island of Jersey, Brittany, Madrid, Toledo, the Forest of Fontainebleau, Brolle, and Étaples.

Dessar returned briefly to New York in 1891 to marry but quickly returned to France. This time he spent eight months in Giverny, experimenting with the techniques of impressionism .

Louise Paul Dessar Painting entitled:  Peasant Woman and Haystacks, Giverny
Louise Paul Dessar Painting entitled: Peasant Woman and Haystacks, Giverny

Eventually, he built a home in Étaples in 1892, returning to New York during the winter months to paint portraits.

Dessar Returns to America

In 1900, Dessar bought a farm on Becket Hill near Lyme, Connecticut, where he lived for the remaining years of his life.

Louis Paul Dessar was an extremely private person and gave up exhibiting his artworks publicly for many years. Dessar sold his unsuccessful farm in the 1920s, but remained in Old Lyme. When he died he was both broke and largely forgotten.

Louis Ritman (1889–1963)

Louis Ritman was born in Kamenets-Podolsky, Russia (now Ukraine) but moved to Chicago with his family when he was a child. Young Ritman began art lessons at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts & the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia.

Ritman’s talent was clearly evident. He participated in annual exhibitions and his artworks were noticed. He started receiving commissions for portraits. Encouraged by his success, he decided to go to Paris in 1909 and trained at the highly prestigious École des Beaux-Arts. He exhibited two paintings at the Paris Salon in 1911, an incredible achievement.

Ritman joins the Giverny Art Colony & spends many summers there

In 1910, along with another American artist Richard Miller, Ritman made his first visit to the Giverny colony of impressionists. He continued painting in Giverny nearly every summer until around 1928. During these years he also had a winter painting studio in Paris and returned frequently for visits to the United States.

Ritman exhibited his impressionist artworks in a number of prominent national and international venues. He won several major prizes.

 Louis Ritman painting
Louis Ritman painting

Ritman returns to America

Eventually Ritman moves back to Chicago in 1929 but continues to visit France. In 1930 he began a long career as a teacher of figure and portrait painting. Ritman also continued to paint beautiful American landscapes, figures and still-life Paintings.

Eventually because of a chronic illness, Louis Ritman retired from both teaching and painting at around 69. He died five years later.

John Leslie Breck (1859 – 1899)

Breck was born on a ship just off the island of Hong Kong. However Breck grew up in Newton, Massachusetts. Following his school graduation, the young budding artist left America to study painting at the Royal Munich Academy. Breck returned to Boston in 1882 and spent the next part of his career painting in New England.

At the age of 27, John Leslie Breck returned to Europe to study in Paris at the Académie Julian. While at school, he met a handful of fellow American artists also studying abroad.

Breck’s Period in Giverny

In 1887 and together with  Willard Metcalf and Theodore Robinson, Breck traveled to Giverny, home of the impressionist master Claude Monet.

While in Giverny, Breck fully embraced impressionism. He was also one of the few Americans who was part of Claude Monet’s inner circle. After a failed romance with Monet’s stepdaughter, Blanche Hoschedé, he returned to Boston in 1890 but continued to paint using the impressionism techniques.

Haystacks in Giverny -  John Leslie Breck impressionism painting
Haystacks in Giverny – John Leslie Breck impressionism painting

Breck returns to America

Some of Breck’s most famous canvases were painted after his return to America. He spent the final years of his life capturing the Massachusetts coast onto his canvases using the beautiful colors and brushwork of the impressionism art movement. He died in 1899 by gas poisoning at the young age of 39.

John Leslie Breck & the impressionist art movement
John Leslie Breck impressionism painting

Richard Emil Miller (1875 – 1943)

Richard E. Miller was an American painter and a prominant American impressionist. Unlike many other impressionists, Miller rarely painted landscapes. He preferred to paint female subjects, either nude or clothed in sunlit interiors.

Richard Emil Miller Painting- Lady reading
Richard Emil Miller Painting

Miller was born in St. Louis, Missouri and began studying art at a very early age. From 1893 to 1897, he studied at the St. Louis School of Fine Arts and then worked as an illustration artist for the St. Louis Post Dispatch.  He received a scholarship to further his art studies in Paris in 1898. Miller studied at the prestigious art school Academie Julian.

During his time in Paris, Millet became very involved in the Giverny Impressionist art colony. He spent many months in Giverny between the years of 1898 until 1914, practicing impressionist techniques and experimenting with other American artists such as Guy Rose, Frederick Frieseke, and Lawton Parker.

Miller’s Return to the United States

When Miller returned to the United States, he taught at the Stickney School in Pasadena, California from 1915 to 1917 and was an active member of the California Art Club, dedicated to “plein-air” painting. 

Later when Miller became a prominent artist and an established art teacher, he took art students to Giverny for many successive summers. He died in 1943 in St. Augustine, Florida.

Richard Emil Miller - impressionist art movement
Richard Emil Miller Painting

For more articles about the Giverny Art Colony & the American artists who embraced French impressionism, see the articles below :