Moment of Indiana History

Midwestern Impressionism

When T.C. Steele and colleagues returned to Indiana in the mid-1880’s after studying at Munich’s Royal Academy of Painting, their canvases evinced the tonal realism they’d absorbed there. By this time, however, French Impressionism was being vigorously adapted by painters in New York and Boston, Connecticut and Pennsylvania. American Impressionism would have a significant regional flowering in Indiana , however, where it served as a vehicle for the development of a modern American pictorial idiom. The Midwestern art scene was energized by Chicago’s 1893 Columbian Exposition, in which Steele exhibited the early impressionistic canvas September . Writing for the new Indianapolis periodical Modern Art , Steele expressed his conviction that the impressionist landscape represented the state of the art.

As art academies and professional organizations sprang up across Indiana and the Midwest, artists increasingly turned to the aesthetic of Impressionism to forge an explicitly American style. In 1894, a much-noted exhibition in Indianapolis and Chicago christened a cohort including Steele, Otto Stark, William Forsyth, J. Ottis Adams, and Richard Gruelle as the “Hoosier Painters.” These artists found a champion in Hamlin Garland, sometime president of the newly founded Central Art Organization, who wrote, “The light floods the Kankakee marshes as well as the meadows and willows of Giverny.” By 1896, the director of the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Louis declared the Hoosier painters equal to Monet.

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