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The Lasting Impression of French Impressionism

Radical Compositions
John Henry Twachtman<br/> American, 1853–1902<br/> <em>The White Bridge</em>, c. 1895<br/> Oil on canvas<br/> Gift of the Martin B. Koon Memorial Collection
  John Henry Twachtman
American, 1853–1902
The White Bridge, c. 1895
Oil on canvas
Gift of the Martin B. Koon Memorial Collection


In addition to painterly brushwork, interest in light and color, painting en plein air, and choosing modern subjects, the French Impressionists were known for their radical compositions and interest in the budding art of photography and the techniques and subjects of Japanese prints. American Impressionist John Henry Twachtman was inspired by his French counterparts' new techniques, especially radical compositions.

Photography liberated painting from its traditional role of describing a scene realistically. Now artists could paint scenes as they saw them. Painters borrowed photographic techniques, such as cropping to alter a composition. Photographs could capture the effects of motion and light, which were critical to the Impressionists.

Japanese prints also exerted an influence on the French Impressionists. In Japanese prints, the space is compressed. Objects on the bottom of the print are in the foreground, those at the top are in the background, and there is often a strong diagonal, such as in Pissarro's Place du Théâtre Français, Paris: Rain. The subjects of Japanese prints are often small moments in a simple day, rather than a grand historic event.

Twachtman greatly admired Monet, and like Monet chose to live in the country and pursue his art in nature. Like Monet with his local grainstacks, Twachtman depicted a white bridge over the Horseneck Brook on his property in Connecticut in at least five paintings, taking advantage of different times of day, light, and vantage point.

The composition of this painting, with its strong diagonal and compressed space, owes its inspiration to Japanese prints. The tree on the left, the evergreen on the right, the shadow on the water, the bridge and its reflection, and the obscured background stack up to flatten the image and push it toward the surface of the canvas.

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1. This is an example of the Japanese prints that inspired the Impressionists.
Utagawa Hiroshige, Japanese, 1797–1858. Playing Football, 19th century, Edo period. Color woodblock print. Gift of Louis W. Hill, Jr.
2. A birthday boy should be at the center of the picture, but here he is off to the right. Sargent chose to crop the painting on the right, cutting off the scene, as one might do in a candid photograph.
John Singer Sargent, American, 1856–1925. The Birthday Party, 1887. Oil on canvas. The Ethel Morrison Van Derlip Fund and the John R. Van Derlip Fund.
3. Eugène-Louis Boudin was as an early inspiration for many Impressionists, especially Monet. Boudin composed the picture to emphasize the vast sky, dwarfing the beach-goers in the foreground. This is the first painting purchased by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts after it opened in 1915.
Eugène-Louis Boudin, French, 1824–98. Vacationers on the Beach at Trouville, 1864. Oil on canvas. The William Hood Dunwoody Fund.