Robert Bruce Crane

(American, 1857 - 1934)

Bruce Crane is one of the best known of the American landscape painters called Tonalists, artists working at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century who–inspired by the French artists of the Barbizon School--were especially interested in depicting atmosphere and the effects of light within a more conservative style and more limited palette than those favored by contemporary artists influenced by the French Impressionists. Born in New York, Crane studied drafting and architecture there, painting at first only in his spare time. Ultimately he became a full-time artist, opening a studio and studying with Alexander H. Wyant (1836-1892), under whose tutelage he moved from a tight, literal rendering of nature, which probably reflected his background as a draftsman, to a more moody style influenced by Wyant’s Barbizon-inspired canvases and the French originals to which his teacher introduced him. Crane further pursued his studies for a year and a half in Paris, also painting outdoors in the nearby artists’ colony of Grez-sur-Loing. He returned to the United States in 1881 and continued to paint plein-air landscapes much as he had done in France, now concentrating on views of the Adirondacks, Long Island, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Crane achieved his greatest recognition around the turn of the century, when he won the Webb Prize from the Society of American Artists. In his mature works, especially autumn and twilight scenes, atmospheric effects are achieved through variation of texture rather than the precise delineation of detail, with color carefully modulated over a rather narrow range. After 1904 Crane spent many summers in the artists’ colony of Old Lyme, Connecticut. In 1984 the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme mounted a retrospective exhibition of Crane’s work; the catalogue includes essays by Charles Teaze Clark and Mary Muir.