Willard L. Metcalf
The Path, 1912
Milch Galleries, New York, NY.
Mr. Cornell, 1922.
Milch Galleries, New York, NY.
Dudensing Gallery, New York, NY, 1926.
Milch Gallery, New York, NY, 1938.
Milch Gallery, New York, NY.
Dr. Theodore Leshner, 1960s.
Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York, NY.
Chapellier Galleries, New York, NY, 1976.
Anon. sale; Sotheby’s, New York, 24 May 1989, lot 144.
Private Collection, acquired from the above sale.
A Century of American Landscape Paintings, 1800 – 1900, exh. cat., Carnegie Institute, Fine Art Department, Pittsburgh, PA, 1939, p. 30, no. 37 (illus. in colour p. 32).
E. de Veer & R.J. Boyle, Sunlight and Shadow: The Life of Willard L Metcalf, New York, NY, 1987, pp. 118-19, no. 146 (illus. in colour).
(Possibly) R.J. Boyle, B. Chambers & W. Gerdts, Willard Metcalf (1858 – 1925): Yankee Impressionist, exh. cat., Spanierman Gallery, New York, NY, 2003, p. 44.
New York, NY, Whitney Museum of American Art, 1938, no. 71.
Springfield, MA, Museum of Fine Arts, 1938, no. 63.
Pittsburgh, PA, Carnegie Institute, Fine Art Department, A Century of American Landscape Paintings, 1800 – 1900, 22 March – 30 April 1939, no. 37.
Willard Leroy Metcalf is admired by critics and collectors for his ability to capture the spirit of the New England landscape in a uniquely American style. Having studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and at the Académie Julien in Paris, in 1897 Metcalf became one of The Ten American Painters who seceded from the Society of American Artists, dissatisfied with the conservatism of the establishment. Together with fellow members of ‘The Ten’, including John Henry Twachtman, J. Alden Weir and Childe Hassam, Metcalf sought to form an exhibiting group that would promote the American Impressionist style that appealed to them. Metcalf, like a number of the other members, had spent time in Europe, from September 1883 until nearly the end of 1888. While there, he visited the artists’ colony in Pont-Aven, and became the first American painter to visit Monet in Giverny.
After returning to America, Metcalf sought to combine the lessons he learned from the European Impressionists with a uniquely American sensibility, and the inspiration of time spent in Maine and in Connecticut artists’ colonies. It was that quality in particular – the ‘Americaness’ of his paintings – that was critically acclaimed: ‘Even though Metcalf’s technique may have reflected his French training and his sympathy for Impressionism, the more noticeable aspects of his new paintings, for the critics, were their peculiarly American sense of place.’ (Willard Metcalf: Yankee Impressionist, exh. cat., Spanierman Gallery, New York, NY, p. 20).
Although the landscape in this painting is not specifically identified, there are several likely possibilities for the location. We know that Metcalf regularly visited the Cornish artists’ colony, located in the villages of Plainfield and Cornish, New Hampshire, between 1909 and 1921, during the period when this work was painted. He returned repeatedly to the bucolic villages, situated along the banks of Blow-me-down-brook, a small creek, as subjects for his picturesque compositions. It may be that The Path represents one such view: a body of water can be seen through the screen of trees at left, beyond the yellow house sitting on its banks. The same yellow house appears in other works from around the same time, also depicting unspecified landscapes. Figures appear in these landscapes rarely, and generally at a distance; it is often the landscape that remains Metcalf’s primary focus.
Alternatively, The Path may depict a view in Maine; the artist had paid regular visits to the area around Clark’s Cove, on the Damariscotta River in the Midcoast area, since 1904. A visit is recorded in the summer of 1915, during which time Metcalf worked on an enlarged version of The Path, a composition he had previously considered. We also know that Metcalf paid regular visits to his friend, fellow artist Charles Woodbury, who was for many years based in Ogunquit Maine. Like Metcalf, Woodbury was an influential teacher, who combined realist sensibilities with the painterliness of American Impressionism.
In The Path, Metcalf’s interest in the dappled patterns of sunlight and shade cast by the trees lining the path is purely Impressionist, while the composition itself – with the strong verticals of the tree trunks, and the path receding into the distance – recalls similar views by Monet and Caillebotte of the paths along the Seine at Argenteuil and Petit-Gennevilliers. It is no wonder that Metcalf became known as ‘the poet laureate of the New England Hills’.
Having been owned by several prominent New York galleries, The Path has remained in the same private collection for over 30 years.