VONNOH, Robert William
(b. 1858, Hartford, d. 1933, Nice)


American painter. Known for portraits, figure studies, and outdoor views, he numbered among the first to introduce to the United States a style strongly indebted to French Impressionism. Born in Hartford, Connecticut, as a small child Robert William Vonnoh moved to Roxbury (now part of Boston). He completed four years of training at Boston's Massachusetts Normal Art School (now Massachusetts College of Art) in 1879 and two years later departed to study in Paris at the Académie Julian under Boulanger and Lefèbvre.

He returned to Boston in 1883 but after four years of study at the Boston Museum School he embarked on a decisive sojourn in France. While residing in the artists' colony of Grèz-sur-Loing, south of Fontainebleau, he came to value immediate sensations and adopted the Impressionists' colourful, broken brushwork. His close-up 1888 studies of a poppy field rival the optical intensity, casual organization, and uninhibited brushwork of Monet's Giverny flowerbeds. Yet, in many other works Vonnoh retained the disciplined compositional structure and solid masses of his traditional training.

Vonnoh returned to Boston in 1891 but soon accepted a teaching position at Philadelphia's Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he served as an influential teacher until the mid-1890s. (After 1918 he again taught there for several years.) Subsequently he resided primarily in New York but also spent periods elsewhere, particularly in France and in Old Lyme, Connecticut. He continued during summer escapes to paint landscapes, while during winters he specialized increasingly in portraits. His late landscapes, mostly painted in France, show greater restraint in colour and brushwork. From the mid-1920s diminished eyesight curtailed his artistic activity. Vonnoh died in Nice, France.

In 1899 he married sculptor Bessie Potter Vonnoh (1872-1955). Known especially for graceful, intimate, small-scale bronzes, she specialized in themes of genteel domesticity centred on women and children.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.