In A June Idyl, the artist’s daughter, Daisy, reads to her brother amid the cool shadows and dappled sunlight of a lush landscape. Steele rarely included figures so prominently in his landscapes, but here he deftly places them into a wooded setting. The bright red hat offers a dramatic dash of color, a technique Steele often used to enliven his compositions.
Steele painted this scene during a summer spent in Vermont’s Green Mountains at the home of Allen M. Fletcher, secretary-treasurer of the Indianapolis Natural Gas Company. Between June and September 1887, he painted five commissions for Fletcher as well as ten works for himself.
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. In 1873 Steele moved to Indianapolis, where he painted portraits and exhibited paintings at an art supply store owned by Herman Lieber, who became an important friend and patron. Lieber headed efforts to send Steele and his family to Europe, gathering twelve subscribers to sponsor the artist’s study in exchange for paintings. Following a precedent set by James Gookins and William M. Chase of Indiana and Frank Duveneck of Cincinatti, Steele went to Germany to study at Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, a city more affordable than Paris. Steele studied in Munich 1880-1885 and after returning to Indianapolis, established the Indiana School of Art, where William Forsyth taught. The Art Association of Indianapolis (precursor to the IMA) took control of the school in 1891. Steele painted portraits and landscapes, many of them dark and dramatic, in the style known as the Munich School. As he began to explore the Indiana countryside, Steele turned almost completely to landscape painting. His work became more colorful and gradually more impressionistic, particularly after he saw European Impressionism at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Steele emerged as the leader and spokesman for a group of Indiana artists known as The Hoosier Group, comprised of 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. For the remainder of his life, he painted the surrounding landscape in his personal variation on Impressionism.
A June Idyl was painted during Steele’s summer sojourn as a guest of Allen M. Fletcher, secretary-treasurer of the Indianapolis Natural Gas Company, at the Fletcher family home in Vermont. The artist divided his summer work in Vermont between expansive views of the Green Mountains and a series of small forest interiors, several of which included the artist’s family. In this painting Steele’s daughter Daisy is reading to her brother Shirley beneath a shade tree. The tonal harmonies reflect the artist’s interest in French Barbizon landscapes. Areas of strong sunlight peek through the dense forest, illuminating the rocks and the girl’s dress. Daisy’s bright red hat offers a dramatic dash of color amid the lush green grass.
William H. Gerdts. Theodore Clement Steele: American Master of Light, New York: Chameleon Books, 1995. ASIN: B002J7NK4K
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