Willard Metcalf (1858–1925), Scene in Tunis Posted on July 22nd, 2014 by

Scene in TunisWillard Metcalf (1858–1925)
Scene in Tunis, 1887
Oil on wood panel, 10 1 ⁄2 x 16 1 ⁄8 inches
Gift of the Reverend Richard L. Hillstrom

Neither Metcalf nor John Twachtman (1853–1902) were part of The Eight or the Ashcan School, but were members of a group of artists known as The Ten, artists who were influenced by Impressionism and who began exhibiting together in 1898. In 1897, the group had grown dissatisfied and split from the Society of American Artists, which itself had been formed over dissatisfaction with the National Academy of Design. Thus, The Ten, like The Eight, arose from a desire to move away from the establishment (though members of The Ten worked to support Impressionism in America, while members of The Eight were, to some degree, reacting against the Impressionism of earlier artists). The Ten held annual exhibitions for twenty years, though this painting dates over a decade earlier than the first of those exhibits. Metcalf studied at School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston as one of its first scholarship students. In 1883, he went abroad for several years that included study at the Académie Julian. In 1886, he visited Giverny, perhaps the first American artist to go to the site made famous by Impressionist painter Claude Monet (1840–1926) having established residence there a few years earlier. In late 1886 and early 1887, Metcalf was travelling in Algeria and Tunisia, painting this sun-dappled impression of the latter’s capital, Tunis. Figures seated in the foreground shade are rendered in cool lavenders and tans punctuated by touches of magenta and blue, in contrast with the bright colors of the background architecture, including two sunlit domes that signal the exotic locale. The artist has in some areas painted very thinly, allowing some of the color and quality of the wooden panel to come through, while in other areas he has dabbed thicker, luscious paint that captures the momentary quality of the scene. This work may be related to Metcalf’s painting Marche de Kous Kous (The Arab Market), for which he received an Honorable Mention at the Paris Salon of 1888. Metcalf has inscribed the painting in its lower left corner as a souvenir of Tunis, presented to an otherwise unidentified friend “J. Barnes.”

Text from the catalogue for the exhibition The Eight, The Ashcan School, and The American Scene in the Hillstrom Collection, presented in the Hillstrom Museum of Art February 25 through April 21, 2013.


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