Pleasant Run

Theodore Clement Steele (American, 1847-1926)

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Steele painted Pleasant Run within months of his return to the US. Munich influences are apparent in the dark tonality, clear atmosphere, and backlighting techniques, here applied to an Indiana landscape.

In an 1886 letter to painter J. Ottis Adams, Steele advised, “Drop all of Munich but your training. Keep the technical ability and the artistic insight, and exercise them upon American subjects, American portraits, life and landscape.”

The Pleasant Run creek defined Indianapolis’s eastern and southern limits in 1885. The painting’s reverse identifies the location as “Osburn’s Farm,” where Arlington Avenue and Tenth Street meet today.

Munich Style at Midwestern Home

“Steele painted Pleasant Run shortly after returning to his native Indianapolis in 1885. He was dismayed with his observations of nature, writing at the time, ‘In the few studies I have made I find a marked difference of effect from those I have been studying in Bavaria. I find more color, intense contrasts, and less atmosphere, or tone, and the effects of haze are thicker and when luminous rarely have that thin whiteness so common in the fine Bavarian afternoons.' As a result of his frustration, Steele painted a dramatic brown and green toned Munich style landscape of a midwestern pastoral subject. Other Americans who had studied in Germany had similar difficulty in adjusting to new settings.”

Weber, Bruce, and William H. Gerdts. In Nature's Ways: American Landscape Painting of the Late Nineteenth Century. West Palm Beach, FL: The Gallery, 1987, p. 10, (image) cat. 64, p. 107.


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.

Pleasant Run has been called the masterpiece of Steele's Munich manner. It was painted within months of the artist's return from five years of study in Germany, where he became increasingly devoted to painting from nature. The canvas's dark tonalities, backlighting, and even its composition, relate to Steele's scenes of Bavaria. Yet as the artist noted in his journal, he remained sensitive to the nuances of the Indiana landscape, carefully recording its color contrasts and clear light. In 1885 when T. C. Steele painted this landscape, Pleasant Run defined the eastern and southern limits of Indianapolis. The area depicted here was located just north of Irvington at the southwest corner of what is now Arlington and Tenth Street.


William H. Gerdts. Theodore Clement Steele: American Master of Light, New York: Chameleon Books, 1995. ASIN: B002J7NK4K


“For quite a while, Indianapolis itself remained Steele's base of operation as it did for several of his colleagues, and the city itself is not absent from his pictorial repertory. Pleasant Run (1885), although a rural scene, actually depicts a site within the city limits. To this scene Steele brought the dark drama and back lighting characteristic of many of his Munich paintings, while also incorporating greater color contrasts and a thicker and more luminous haze than in the landscapes painted abroad. He later repeated the composition of Pleasant Run (1887) on a slightly smaller scale—a true replication, since even several of the cows by the bridge over the run are identically placed.”

Gerdts, William H. Theodore Clement Steele: American Master of Light. New York: Chameleon Books, 1995, p. 14.

The Hoosier Artists

“The Hoosier artists were the first Indiana painters who remained there to work (Chase, for instance, came from Indiana but painted elsewhere) and who achieved a level of professionalism beyond a delightful—or sometimes inspired—provincialism. The core of the Hoosier group—William Forsyth, John Ottis Adams, and particularly Theodore Steele, who was acknowledged as the leading figure among them—studied in the early and mid-1880s in Munich, following the regular curriculum at the Royal Academy and then studying outside Munich, at Schleissheim, with the expatriate American J. Frank Currier. The work of the Hoosiers then consisted of peasant genre pieces and broadly painted, dark tonal landscapes, such as Steele's Pleasant Run of 1885, painted in Indianapolis just after his return from Munich. Gradually, during the late 1880s and early ‘90s, Steele and his colleagues turned to a more colorful, light-filled aesthetic as they explored the Indiana landscape: the valleys of the Whitewater and the Muscatatuck rivers in and around communities such as Vernon and Brookville. Steele's work began to be seen more widely after his return from Germany, when he exhibited with the Society of American Artists in New York in 1886; but the Hoosier painters did not start to attract serious national attention until 1893, when Steele and Forsyth exhibited in the Art Gallery of the Columbian Exposition. Garland first became aware of their work then, and a short notice in the first issue of Modern Art mentioned their reception by the jury: ‘A landscape by Mr. Steele was the only picture that received a number one vote.' This may have been Steele's 1892 On the Muscatatuck.”

Gerdts, William H. American Impressionism. New York: Abbeville Press, 1984, p. 146.


Object Information

Theodore Clement Steele (American, 1847-1926)
creation date
oil on canvas
19-1/4 x 32-1/4 in.
28-1/2 x 41 x 4 in. (framed)
accession number
credit line
Gift of Carl B. Shafer
Public Domain
American Painting and Sculpture to 1945

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