ROBINSON. Theodore
(b. 1852, Irasburg, d. 1896, New York)


American painter, active also in France. Brought up in Evansville, WI, he studied art briefly in Chicago at the end of the 1860s, and in New York at the National Academy of Design (1874-76). His early work was in the painterly American genre tradition of Winslow Homer. From 1876 to 1878 he studied in Paris under Carolus-Duran, alongside John Singer Sargent, and under Jean-Léon Gérôme.

In 1879 Robinson returned to the USA and lived mainly in New York and Boston; he made a living by teaching and by assisting John La Farge and Prentice Treadwell with mosaic and stained-glass decorations for the Metropolitan Opera House, New York. In 1881 he was elected to the Society of American Artists, a group in revolt against the conservatism of the National Academy.

Returning to France in 1884, Robinson worked in Paris and Barbizon and was strongly influenced for a time by the Barbizon school. A crucial event was his meeting with Monet at Giverny, near Rouen, in 1887. By 1888 they were close friends and Robinson began to develop his own Impressionist style, which was never as extreme in its use of broken colour as that of Monet. His aim, as he wrote in his journal, was to combine Impressionism's 'brilliancy and light of real outdoors' with 'the austerity, the sobriety, that has always characterized good painting'. Cézanne seems to have influenced the strong compositional structure of his paintings, and his best work was done mostly in France during the next four years. He also painted in Italy for several months in 1890 and 1891. His favourite subjects were landscapes and intimate vignettes of farm and village life, such as the Watering Pots (1890; New York, Brooklyn Museum of Art), In the Grove (c. 1888; Baltimore, MD, Museum of Art) and Wedding March (1892; Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago).

Since models were expensive and Robinson was poor, he often took photographs as studies for his figure compositions. It is possible that his interest in photography and its relation to painting may have encouraged Monet to try similar experiments.