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Museum: 10:00 AM - 7:00 PM
Gardens: 7:00 AM - 5:30 PM
Today's Hours
Museum: 10:00 AM - 7:00 PM
Gardens: 7:00 AM - 5:30 PM
Thompson, Richard Earl
(1914-1991)
Collection: American Collection
Specialties: Paintings, Prints
View Artwork
Though Impressionism has often been identified as the quintessential late
19th century art, its appeal remains for an early 21st century public.
Among the recent practitioners of this style was Richard Earl Thompson. In
1874, a critic coined the term "Impressionists" for a group of radical
young French painters whose work was characterized by broken brushwork, a
high-key palette, and the use of painterly techniques to evoke qualities
of light and color and whose subjects were scenes from casual, everyday
life. American artists aware of this new style created a variation called
American Impressionism, one of whose adherents, William Merrit Chase,
became the best-known and respected art teacher of his time.

Richard Earl Thompson inherited his Impressionist tendencies in a direct
line from Chase. Born in 1914, Thompson demonstrated his aptitude for art
quickly; a child prodigy, he found himself at the age of fifteen at the
Chicago Academy of Fine Art where he became the protege of Frederick Grant
who had himself been taught by William Merrit Chase. Thompson thought of
himself as an "extension" to the Impressionists, creating his style by
using the broader range of colors available to late 20th-century painters,
blending techniques derived from the Impressionists and other European and
American artists, and creating landscapes based primarily on the Wisconsin
area in which he made his home. Unlike Chase, however, Thompson did not
immediately find a market for his art. Coming of age at the time of the
Great Depression and with a wife and family to support, Thompson had to
initially abandon his hopes of a career in fine art for a career as a
commercial artist. He was extremely successful in that line of work, but
in 1959, decided that he had to follow his dream before it was too late.
As Thompson said, "I wanted to make a change in my life, even if I had to
lose everything. If successful, I realized my work would afford me, in my
remaining years, a way of life I sorely needed . . . to survive as an
individual." However, his years in advertising were not wasted; Thompson
credited his years of work in that medium with his ability to paint
figures so well and to combine landscape and figurative work in a dramatic
context.

Scholar Bernard Denvir notes, "In the second half of the twentieth century
Impressionism attained a status, both in terms of popularity and market
standing, superior to that of almost any other form of art." Thompson gave
one explanation for this: "The public has always admired and purchased
beautiful objects; they stand the test of time." Like earlier American
Impressionists, Thompson's work is most concerned with the depiction of
nature in terms of color and light, capturing a beautiful moment in time.
The aim is to evoke a feeling, to capture a sensation, not to arouse,
outrage, or provoke a political response. Thompson insisted: "I have tried
not to be something I am not. No shock treatments, no political messages,
compositions based rather on tranquil scenes - a sincere approach to
painting to which all people can relate." At a time when so much modern
art seems designed to provoke or shock, Thompson's paintings provide a
vision of the beauty of a world at peace.

Everl Adair, Director of Research and Rare Collections