Theodore Robinson (1852 - 1896)

Birth date: 7/3/1852 Death date: 4/2/1896  
Birth location: Irasburg, Vermont Death location: New York, New York  
Media: Drawing , Painting , Painting / Oil Web site:
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Theodore Robinson
Born 1852 in Irasburg, Vermont
Died in 1896 in New York

Theodore Robinson (1852-1896) was one of the first American painters to embrace Impressionism. His mature style combines a mastery of that movement’s treatment of light and color with the realism, attention to detail, and fine draftsmanship he refined through formal training and dedicated practice.

Robinson was born in Vermont, but spent much of his early life in Evansville, Wisconsin (1856-1874). His father was a minister before opening a clothing store. Theodore’s talent for art was noted at an early age. He attended the Art Institute of Chicago and the National Academy of Design in New York. Robinson was severely asthmatic – the ailment would take his life at age forty-four. He was often described as thin or frail; however, he had a strong will and sense of purpose, persisting in his studies and career with quiet humor, according to his friends. He tended to retreat to favorable climes (Evansville, for example, or the French countryside) but often found reason to spend time in unfavorable ones (Chicago, New York, and Paris).  

Robinson spent the late 1870s refining his painterly technique in Paris, France, studying under academician Jean-Léon Gérôme and at the atelier of Emile-Auguste Carolus-Duran. He returned to America in 1879, but was drawn back to France, where he would reside (more or less) from 1884-1892. During this period he developed the artistic style he is most remembered for.

In 1883, Claude Monet moved to Giverny, France, where he was to remain and flourish. Within several years the village developed into an artists’ colony, including many Americans. Robinson settled in Giverny, as did some of his artist friends. He had long been active in artistic social circles and organizations, but he is known to have been skeptical about transforming sleepy Giverny into an artists’ colony. In this sentiment he resembled the reclusive Monet, who said the influx of artists and students made him consider moving away, though he never did.

Perhaps alone among the American artists in Giverny, Robinson established an enduring friendship with Monet. The master Impressionist critiqued Robinson’s paintings. They dined together, and exchanged letters when Robinson left the area. Monet once wrote, “Spring is close […] and I hope you are not going to delay taking possession again of your little house.” He clearly enjoyed the company of this soft-spoken yet humorous American from rural Wisconsin.

Wanting to apply what he’d learned in France to American landscapes, he returned in 1892. In spite of increasing recognition for his art, he struggled financially. He taught various classes for money and wrote a notable article about French painter Jean Baptiste Camille Corot. He continued to paint in various locales, struggling more than ever to remain productive in spite of his bouts of asthma. After completing his article on Corot, he fell ill for the last time, and was buried in Evansville, Wisconsin. Though he spent little time there as an adult, his open, bucolic landscapes and sensitive, subtle depictions of ordinary people seem to reflect his Wisconsin roots.

Wisconsin Affiliations

No affiliations were found.

Wisconsin Art Organizations

No art organizations were found.

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