Robertson Kirtland Mygatt; Philadelphia Collection 74; March 2005

late July of that year to benefit of the Ascension Memorial Church in Ipswich. A writer for a local newspaper observed that although “Mr. Mygatt exhibits for the first time in Ipswich . . . his work is worthy of a place among any artists of the country.”17 Mygatt had his only solo exhibition at the Louis Katz Art Galleries in New York in 1916.18 Two of his landscapes were included in the first annual exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists in 1917; the eclectic group’s motto was “no jury, no prizes.” He spent the final years of his life painting the countryside around his home on 7 Nod Road in Ridgefield, Connecticut. Mygatt died of heart disease at his mother’s house at 130 East 67th Street in New York on December 16, 1919, and was buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Tarrytown.

Mygatt was profoundly influenced by the leading Tonalist landscape painters who emerged in the 1890s: J. Francis Murphy (1853–1921), Dwight Tryon (1849–1925), and Henry Ward Ranger (1858–1916). His work bears a pronounced similarity to that of Murphy, with whom he may have studied. Defined by Wanda M. Corn as “a style of intimacy and expressiveness, interpreting very specific themes in limited color scales and employing delicate effects of light to create vague, suggestive moods,”19 Tonalism evolved from the combined influences of French Barbizon painting, the Dutch Hague School, the innovations of James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903), Asian art, and the British Aesthetic movement. Its earliest exponents had been George Inness (1825–1894), Alexander Wyant (1836–1892), and Homer Dodge Martin (1836–1897). Tonalist landscape painters eschewed the spectacular, dramatic vistas characteristic of the Hudson River School in favor of poetic, generalized, and spiritual interpretations of unassuming segments of nature. Artists usually represented pastoral scenes at dawn or dusk and evoked specific seasons, especially spring and autumn. Simple, elegantly composed, and decorative, Tonalist landscapes were admired for their ability to induce a contemplative state within the mind of the viewer. Such scenes also had nationalistic undertones because the terrain was recognizably American; Mygatt and many of his colleagues, for example, favored the fields and marshlands of rural Connecticut.

With the exception of Trees in a Field, Mygatt’s paintings in this exhibition are all small, mostly horizontal landscapes painted on wood panels taken from cigar boxes of the “Ionic” and “Flor” brands. Such works were often exhibited at special shows held at the Salmagundi Club and various New York galleries, where they were called “thumb box sketches.” When Mygatt exhibited six of them at the Louis Katz Art Galleries in 1916, the catalogue defined them as “the original impression in miniature that is afterwards used as a monitor for a more pretentious painting (in point of size only). The word Thumb Box being used to designate size, the box being held by the thumb and forefinger, and must naturally be small. The word as used today is a misnomer, as they are really finished paintings of charm and merit.”20 The fact that Mygatt carefully signed and dated so many of the panels indicates that he indeed regarded them as finished works of art. When he altered a number of pictures a few years after they had originally been painted, he carefully re-signed and re-dated them (checklist nos. 17, 29, 30, 54, and 60). Other Tonalist painters generally painted such sketches directly from nature to serve as aids for larger, more finished exhibition pictures that they executed in their studios. Mygatt seems to have preferred the thumb box format, because few large paintings by him are known.


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