I always understood impressionism as art.
When I was a child, “art” was synonymous with New Hope, Pennsylvania, a riverfront community to this day dedicated to curios, antiques and free expression. Recent efforts by Bucks County officials to turn New Hope into a giant Starbucks franchise have hindered the community’s artistic side, but no yuppification can erase New Hope’s importance in Americanizing the impressionist movement during the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Daniel Garber’s works embody the New Hope school perfectly. His best-known pieces are of the Delaware River’s serene curves, but his few surviving portraits, etchings and even advertisements are proof that Garber could do much more than survey and replicate light and shadow through pastels. Even some of the great European Impressionists such as Pissarro and Bazille had a tendency to fail at the intricacies and precision required of portraitists. Garber mixes the graceful fluidity of impressionist strokes with precision and attention to anatomy in pieces such as “Tanis” (1915), one of my personal favorites and the one sampled in this blog post.
Garber’s history is similar to artists I explored in Mexico City. Beginning his career in commercial art, he studied in Europe, bringing the most important elements of Europe to the United States and discarding much of the pretension. Garber was somewhat a Romantic, but his work was utterly modern.
As much as I enjoy viewing his works, especially the well-chosen pieces in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, his greatest contribution was as a teacher, where he could impact the new generation. His effect on American painting might not be that direct, but it exists in echoes.
The best collection of Garber’s work is apparently at the James Michener Museum in Doylestown, but I haven’t made it out there yet. We’re planning a trip April 22.