The use of the term sketch to describe Mygatt’s small paintings is misleading, because it implies that he
executed them in a rapid, spontaneous manner. William H. Gerdts, however, has noted how craftsmanship and
technique were significant aspects of the Tonalist aesthetic, and Mygatt was no exception.21 He composed
his small landscapes meticulously and used a variety of techniques. The artist achieved highly textured
surfaces by carefully applying multiple glazes. Often he left the panel’s wood grain visible beneath the paint
layers to heighten the visual effect of rural fields strewn with rocks and leaves. Occasionally he used the end
of his paintbrush to incise the forms of pictorial elements such as tree trunks and branches. Mygatt also
rendered the sky in a manner calculated to evoke specific seasons and weather conditions, and to provide a
textural contrast with the landscape details below.
Mygatt seldom included human figures in his compositions, and whenever they do appear they are dwarfed by their
surroundings. His subjects are instead “civilized landscapes” that contain unobtrusive signs of human
activity—farmhouses, stone fences, cultivated fields—by which nature has been domesticated. The artist favored
the horizontal format because it was conducive to his penchant for using the horizon line to divide the
composition into clearly delineated sections of sky and earth that he punctuated with carefully placed trees.
There are some notable exceptions to this pattern, however: the two-dimensional
Summer Landscape at Dusk (figure 8) is distinguished by its nearly
abstract, decorative quality; Forest Interior (figure 7) is filled
with foliage and thus devoid of a horizon line; and the unusually atmospheric
is reminiscent of the marine scenes of Joseph M. W. Turner (1795–1851). There is little evidence of stylistic
growth and development in Mygatt’s mature work, and he was certainly a follower rather than an innovator.
Nevertheless, he was remarkably successful in imbuing these small, poetic landscapes with an exceptional aura
of atmosphere and mystery.
—Robert Wilson Torchia
Robert Wilson Torchia is a specialist in nineteenth- and twentieth-century American art who received his
Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1989. He is particularly interested in the art and history of
Philadelphia, was guest curator of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's exhibition John Neagle, Portrait
Painter of Philadelphia (1989), and has published a series of exhibition catalogues devoted to the Smith family,
as well as articles on Thomas Eakins and Thomas Sully. He is also the author of the Systematic Catalogue of
Nineteenth-Century American Painting, Volume N-Z, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (1998). Torchia
currently teaches art history at Lyon College in Batesville, Arkansas.
Copyright ©2005 The Schwarz Gallery