The title refers to a white, gauzy veil known as bloom that covers grapes at harvest time. Steele said the hazy, frosty days of late October and early November reminded him of the “bloom of the grape.”
Although Steele was aware of contemporary art movements, he likely only encountered Impressionism in person at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Painted just after his visit, The Bloom of the Grape shifts Steele’s style toward Impressionism with its colorful violets complemented by yellows and oranges.
One of Steele’s most celebrated landscapes, this painting received an honorable mention at the 1900 World’s Fair in Paris and brought international attention to Indiana painting.
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.
The Bloom of the Grape, painted in Vernon, Indiana, in early November 1893 during what Steele called “a glorious autumn,” is the artist’s best-known landscape. Its title refers to the white gauzy veil, known as “bloom,” covering grapes at harvest time. Steele wrote to his wife that he had never seen better color, “such dull reads and crimsons and faded yellows and oranges, in juxtaposition with such royal purples.” These rich color harmonies are captured in this painting in a manner that critic Charles F. Browne described as conservatively impressionistic, but not wild. The luminosity and color harmonies found in Bloom of the Grape exemplify the new approach to landscape painting that would earn Steele national recognition for his modified Impressionist style.
William H. Gerdts. Theodore Clement Steele: American Master of Light, New York: Chameleon Books, 1995. ASIN: B002J7NK4K
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