T. C. Steele was born in Gosport Indiana. His family later moved to Waveland where Steele began taking art classes at age twelve. By the time he was eighteen, Steele was teaching drawing and painting at Waveland Collegiate Institute. Steele moved to Indianapolis and cultivated a friendship with Herman Lieber, who became his patron. He studied at the Indiana School of Art with its founder John Love. Lieber raised the funds to send Steele and his family to Europe. Steele chose to go to Munich because it was less expensive than Paris and he could study with Frank Duveneck, a prominent Ohio painter. When Steele returned to Indianapolis, he established an art school with William Forsyth. He did portraits and landscapes, many of them dark and dramatic, in the style known as the Munich School. When he began to explore the Indiana countryside, Steele turned almost completely to landscape painting, and his work became more colorful and gradually more impressionistic. Steele emerged as the leader and spokesman for a group of Indiana artists known as The Hoosier Group, which included Indiana’s most important Impressionist painters, including William Forsyth, J. Ottis Adams, Otto Stark, and Richard Gruelle. In 1902 and 1903, Steele toured the American West, painting in Oregon and around San Francisco. In 1906, he settled in Brown County in a home that became known as the House of the Singing Winds.
In this three-quarter length figure study, Steele does not highlight the sitter’s face in the customary manner, but instead concentrates the light on her white blouse. This striking illumination emphasizes the diagonal created by the chair and the model’s arm, adding a dynamic quality to the composition. The dramatic lighting also emphasizes the contrast between the sitter’s white blouse and the richly textured Asian rug covering the chair. Students painted a variety of poses in their academic portraits, ranging from profiles and three-quarter angles to full frontal and rear views. It is clear from the pupils’ work that classes at the Royal Academy were designed to give students a full grounding in every aspect of portraiture.
William H. Gerdts. Theodore Clement Steele: American Master of Light, New York: Chameleon Books, 1995. ASIN: B002J7NK4K