Robert William Vonnoh (American, 1858-1933)

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  • With no horizon line or path for the eye to follow, the composition pitches forward to emphasize the flat surface of the canvas. Even the shadows offer little sense of depth. The vigorously painted red and gold blossoms seem to float over their green stems.
  • This painting captures a moment when Vonnoh experimented with pure Impressionism in the style of Monet—painting quickly and outdoors with broken brushwork and intense contrasting colors. It dates from the summer that he learned Impressionism at the artists’ colony of Grez, France, making this one of the earliest American Impressionist paintings.
  • Like many Americans, Vonnoh later tempered his technique to a more moderate approach to brushwork and color.
Curatorial Summary

Robert Vonnoh may not be one of America’s best-known Impressionist painters, but he was the first American artist to bring European Impressionism to this country. Born in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1858, Vonnoh moved with his parents to Boston while still a child. He initially studied art at Boston's Massachusetts Normal Art School. Vonnoh continued his training in Paris at the Académie Julian in 1881. Upon returning to Boston, Vonnoh began to establish a career for himself as a portrait painter, but in 1887 the artist returned to France and settled for four years in the area of Grèz-sur-Loing, an artist's colony 70 kilometers south of Paris. Numerous paintings he created in France were displayed at the Paris Salon, but he also had many solo exhibitions in America and was principal instructor in portrait and landscape painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts from 1891 to 1894. In 1892 the academy dedicated two galleries to Vonnoh’s works in its annual exhibition. Vonnoh's students at the Academy included William Glackens, Robert Henri, and John Sloan, who went on to become part of the group known as the Ashcan School. During his career, Vonnoh was considered one of the foremost landscape and portrait painters in America. For over 25 years he was also part of the artists’ colony at Old Lyme, Connecticut.

During his second stay in France, Vonnoh painted Poppies, deemed one of the most radical American Impressionist works of the period. Because of their intense hues, poppy fields were favorite subjects for the French Impressionists. Vonnoh’s painting seems to have been rendered quickly and directly before the subject. With no horizon or path for the eye to follow out of the foreground, the landscape seems to pitch forward, emphasizing the two-dimensional surface of the canvas. At a distance, the swarm of choppy strokes and daubs of vivid pigment resolve into a luminous picture that incorporates the Impressionist techniques of broken brushwork and contrasting complementary colors. Poppies is one of the earliest paintings by an American Impressionist to equal in brilliance of color and freedom of handling the work of the French Impressionists.


Greenhouse, Wendy. Robert Vonnoh: American Impressionist. Chicago: Madron Gallery, 2010.

Hill, May Brawley. Grez Days: Robert Vonnoh in France. New York: Berry-Hill Galleries, 1987.

Weinberg, H. Barbara. “Summers in the Country.” In Americans in Paris: 1860-1900, edited by Jennifer Speake, 115-177. London: National Gallery, 2006.

Mrs. McMorris (mother of the artist, Daniel McMorris, close friend of Robert Vonnoh); private collection Kansas City, Missouri; (Berry-Hill Galeries), New York, New York; purchased by the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1971.

Object Information

Robert William Vonnoh (American, 1858-1933)
creation date
oil on canvas
13 x 18 in. (canvas)
20-7/8 x 26-1/16 in. (framed//OPTIUM glazed)
mark descriptions
Signed in blue paint at lower left: Vonnoh - 88 -
accession number
credit line
James E. Roberts Fund
Public Domain
American Painting and Sculpture to 1945

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