Severna Park's Art Gallery
Established 1983

Lineage and History of American Impressionism: The Road to Annapolis

The Annapolis, Maryland area has a strong Impressionist artist community. A number of local artists studied with master Impressionist, Henry Hensche (student and teaching assistant of Charles Hawthorne) at The Cape Cod School of Art, the eminent Impressionist art school in Provincetown, Massachusetts. The rich traditions of this art style continue today. The following chronology traces the more than 150 years of American Impressionist history, from the birth of American Impressionism to present day Annapolis, Maryland.

In the Beginning
William Merritt Chase (1849-1916) dominated the universe of American art during the late 19th century. He was one of the first artists to turn out Impressionist landscapes in the United States, but he was also a portrait painter of the first rank, as well as a master of still life and a renowned teacher. While his background was in the rich value changes of Tonalism, he changed his approach in the late 1880’s to pursue the brighter, lighter palette and shorter brushstrokes of the French Impressionists.

In 1878, Chase founded the Chase School of Art (now the Parsons School of Design) in New York. Chase hired art student Charles Hawthorne (1872 - 1930) as his teaching assistant in 1887. Eight years later, Chase opened one of the first outdoor painting, or plein air, schools in the country at Shinnecock, Long Island. Modeled after the French Impressionists, he took his students out-of-doors to capture American views.

The Hawthorne Influence
In 1899 Charles Hawthorne established his own outdoor painting school, The Cape Cod School of Art in Provincetown, Massachusetts. By 1916, this small fishing village had become the largest art colony in the world. Hawthorne was committed to resolving the issue of color perception to an even greater degree than Chase. He believed in promoting the importance of the main color relationships over the drawing.

Hawthorne also invented a system of study that involved the use of a putty knife to apply the paint instead of the traditional brush and canvas. His first love was the figure thus, he taught his students "to see and feel their subjects" by painting the color masses or large simple areas of color.

Henry Hensche: The Next Level
In the 1920's Henry Hensche (1902-1992) studied under Charles Hawthorne, signing on as his teaching assistant in 1927. He taught with Hawthorne until 1930, the year Hawthorne unexpectedly died. After Hawthorne’s death, Hensche opened his own painting school, The Cape School of Art in 1935, carrying on Hawthorne’s tradition of outdoor painting instruction.

Hensche took Hawthorne's concept of the simplification of color relationships one step further. He had his students paint a collection of different colored wood blocks set on a table in full sun. This exercise served to heighten the students perception of color. It was the study of the color blocks at different times of day under different light conditions that challenged the students to see the varying light keys and record what they actually saw. Meanwhile, on a practical level, Hawthorne's putty knife had served its teaching purpose and the palette knife took its place.

For Hensche, the essential elements of visual logic were "light key, masses and variations of masses." Hensche often quoted Cezanne, "every form change is a color change." This emphasis on form distinguishes him as an American Impressionist.

The Hensche Students
Henry Hensche’s influence continues to be widespread. In the early 1980’s, Maryland artist, Cedric Egeli, who had spent many summers traveling to The Cape School to paint, told John Ebersberger that it was the place to go to learn to paint. In the summer of 1982, six Annapolis artists journeyed to The Cape School to study. For some, it was their first trip, John Ebersberger, Lee Boynton, Josephine Beebe and Bonnie Roth Anderson, joining Cedric and Joanette Egeli.

New Home for Impressionism: Annapolis
In July 1984 McBride Gallery began exhibiting plein air Impressionist paintings, including the first show devoted to Impressionism in Annapolis in September 1987, "Visions of Impressionism" featuring John Ebersberger. Over 20 impressionist exhibits were held at McBride Gallery throughout the 1990’s and early 2000’s for artists, John Ebersberger, Bill Schmidt, John Brandon Sills, Lee Boynton, David Lawton, Abigail McBride, Tim Bell and Stephen Griffin.

The Cardinal Gallery at The Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts held a retrospective show in 1997 "Annapolis Impressionists: The Influence of Henry Hensche at Maryland Hall" showcasing artworks of painters who lived and worked in the Annapolis area and had been influenced directly by Henry Hensche. Artists in that show included Cedric and Joanette Egeli, John Ebersberger, Lee Boynton, and Bonnie Roth Anderson.

Benfield Gallery in Severna Park began showing Impressionist plein air paintings in the 1980's with work from Abigail McBride, Janice Antinucci, Merla Tootle and Judy Fox followed by solo and group exhibitions. An exhibit, "The Ebersberger Influence" was held in June/July 2014. Artists in this exhibit included: Janice Antinucci, Paul Bertholet, Michele del Pilar, Barbara Dodge, Judy Fox, Janet Gartrell, Edmee Geis, Melissa Gryder, Jeanie Hendryx, Nancy McCarra, Gary Pendleton, David Riegal, Desiree Scherini, Diane Cary Thomson, Merla Tootle, Andree Tullier, and Susan Webster. The Awards Juror was Abigail McBride; John Ebersberger gave the Artist Talk at the reception.

For three Annapolis painters, John Ebersberger, Sharon Littig and Abigail McBride, plus many ‘guest’ artists over the years, a snowy trek to paint Deep Creek Lake in western Maryland was an annual occurrence. After several years, these winter plein air painting trips, attracted Maryland Public Television who contacted the intrepid group to film a special "Outdoor Maryland" segment in 2002. Later that spring, Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts hosted an exhibit of these wintry Impressionist paintings, "Shades of Winter."

In 2002 the Mid-Atlantic Plein Air Painters Association was formed in Annapolis. Founders included, Lee Boynton, John Ebersberger, Ross Merrill, Abigail McBride, Sharon Littig, Bill Wright and Bonnie Roth Anderson. The first event held that September was called, "Paint Annapolis 2002," an all-day plein air painting event culminating at dusk with a public reception at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts with awards and recognitions for the artists. Over twenty artists participated that first year.

The Next Generation
In June 2003, McBride Gallery hosted an exhibit of the next generation of Impressionist painters, "The Young Impressionists" featuring Tim Bell, Stephen Griffin, and Abigail McBride. Both McBride and Bell studied with and worked as teaching assistants for John Ebersberger. Griffin studied with the Egelis and worked as their teaching assistant for many years. The fabric of Impressionist painters in the Annapolis area is interwoven with the influences of teacher to student again and again throughout the last 170 'plus' years.

A new book, "100 Plein Air Painters of the Mid-Atlantic" by Gary Pendleton, published by Schiffer Publishing and released in 2014 explores the history of plein air landscape painting and features 100 living artists working in the five Mid-Atlantic states.

Cynthia McBride

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