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Alexander Helwig Wyant (American, 1836–1892)


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Alexander Helwig Wyant (American, 1836–1892)
Autumn on Lake Placid, 1873

Oil on canvas, 12-1/8 x 20 inches
Kresge Art Museum, Michigan State University, MSU purchase, funded by the Emma Grace Holmes Endowment, 2008.30










Autumn on Lake Placid

Born 1836 on a farm in Ohio, Alexander Wyant saw paintings by George Inness in Cincinnati in 1857 and was so take with their moody, atmospheric expressivity that he went to New York to meet him. Encouraged by Inness and supported by Cincinnati art patron Nicholas Longworth he studied in New York's National Academy of design for a year then in Germany with Norwegian painter of the Dusseldorf School, Hans Fredrik Gude. He learned how to build a painting from Gude and then travelled in the British Isles where he was influenced by the atmospheric paintings of Constable and Turner. His paintings of the 1860s and early 1870s show their influence, as well as those of Inness and the Barbizon painters Corot and Rousseau whose work he probably saw on his visit to Paris after Germany. Fairly free brushwork, light touch, low key colors, subtle contrasts and sensitivity to atmosphere are characteristic. The structure of the landscape in Autumn on Lake Placid, 1873 is perfectly clear and solid. But Wyant's gift was what he added to the structural representation of nature. He added light and atmospheric envelopment. Eliot Clark wrote in his 1916 monograph that, "It was this striving for light and expanse that took Wyant away from absolute form and brought to his work greater suggestion and freedom of handling. Wyant in this respect is an important link between the earlier school and later impressionists." This factor as well as our long standing desire for a classic Hudson River School painting, which this is, made this an important acquisition for us.

Autumn on Lake Placid was among the last paintings finished before Wyant left on a mishandled expedition to the Southwest that should have provided him with splendid painting opportunities, but instead caused him to suffer a stroke which left his right side partially paralyzed. He had to relearn how to paint with his left hand and the later paintings are generally painted more loosely than before. He enjoyed painting in the Adirondacks and after his marriage in 1880 went to live there. He died in 1892.


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