THEODORE EARL BUTLER
Clouds, Giverny depicts a field in Giverny, France (famous for its impressionist inhabitants.) Cumulus clouds that float in an azure sky dominate the landscape, the clouds accented by rose, blue, and emerald. In the middle ground, a lone tree adorned by a range of colored leaves, bends to the left. To the right, the tree casts a blue shadow at a slight angle, indicating the direction of the sun on this summer day. The shadow lies across a fork of a dirt road emerging from the lower right foreground. Several groups of trees and low-lying clouds are visible in the distance, while flowers, indicated by dabs of color, blanket the painting. Blue shadows on the lower dirt road suggest more trees beyond the edge of the canvas.
In sync with his famous (step) father-in-law, Claude Monet, Theodore Butler exhibited many characteristics of impressionism in landscapes such as Clouds, Giverny. Impressionists often painted familiar outdoor locations en plein air to capture changing weather conditions, using dabs of pigment to create forms and indicate details. At the same time Butler’s use of color in Clouds, Giverny is expressive, the predominance of blue, for example, reflecting a unique vision of the artist. Butler synthesized impressionism and expressive elements of the post–impressionists. By the time this work was painted, he was exhibiting with artists such as Henri Matisse, who is also regarded for his bright palette, departures from natural color, and use of curving line.
A native of Ohio, Theodore Earl Butler (1860-1936) worked in France most of his life. After studying at the Art Students League, the artist went to Paris, where he enrolled at the Académie Julian. Like many other American painters, Butler was drawn to Giverny, a farming area in the Loire Valley near Paris. The village was affordable in the early days of its popularity with artists and attractive due to the marvelous Northern light of the region around the rivers.
For the sake of his ailing father, Butler returned to the United States briefly. He later settled in Giverny with his first wife Suzanne, Monet’s stepdaughter. During the marriage, he painted many scenes of his wife and children. After Suzanne’s untimely death, Butler returned to the landscape subject, which he had favored earlier in his career. He spent time in the United States during the First World War, becoming involved in the Society of Independent Artists. After Suzanne’s sister, Marthe, had helped care for Butler’s children (her niece and nephew), he ultimately married her.
Monet also favored fields in Giverny and flowers as subjects. For example, look at his Field of Yellow Irises at Giverny (1887, Musee Marmottan, Paris.) Like Butler, Monet used dabs of bright paint to indicate flowers with an emphasis on the fluffy clouds above. At school (outreach), we learned about another American impressionist painter working in France around the same time as Butler. Mary Cassatt painted Francoise in Green Sewing (1908 - 1909). Although Cassatt’s interior subject is different from Butler’s, she also used bright colors and loose brushstrokes. Another artist who incorporated expressive aspects of Post-Impressionism into his paintings like Butler was the American impressionist, Childe Hassam. Notice the predominance of red and the way that fruit is outlined in red in his high keyed Fruit Still Life (1930).
Claude Monet, Field of Yellow Irises at Giverny, 1887, oil on canvas, Musée Marmotten, Paris; Mary Cassatt, Francoise in Green, Sewing, 1908-1909, oil on canvas; Childe Hassam, Fruit Still Life, 1930, oil on panel.
What is the focus of this painting? Where do you think the landscape is located? The countryside? Where? What season is depicted in Clouds, Giverny? Spring because of the flowers? Fall because of the red leaves on the tree? Or perhaps, summer? What is the weather like? What time of day is it? Are there any colors that you might not expect to find in nature? Blue shadows perhaps? Where is the road headed?