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American Impressionism and The Cape Cod School of Art

Before 'Impressionism' artists had a limited selection of colors with which to paint. Artists had to mix these pigments daily so they were not easily transported out of their studios.

The Impressionist movement was born in France after the development of new and more colorful pigments that were manufactured and available in portable tubes. This allowed artists to paint directly outdoors or ‘en plein aire’ where they could observe the constantly changing color of light.

Impressionism’s most famous practitioner was Claude Monet. As one of the first artists to paint directly from nature, he dedicated his entire life's work to studying the color of light.

Monet to Chase to Hawthorne

Monet influenced many well known and respected American Impressionist painters such as Frederick Childe Hassam, John Henry Twachtman, and William Merrit Chase. Chase, a renown American portrait painter, eventually employed the richer and brighter colors of Impressionism. His landscapes influenced his student and prodigy, Charles. W. Hawthorne.

At the turn of the 20th century, Hawthorne discovered Provincetown, Massachusetts. It was a quiet fishing village on the tip of Cape Cod that it had the same luminous quality of light as the European coastal towns which was favored by the French Impressionists. He established the Cape Cod School of Art in 1899 which was the first American school dedicated solely to the ideals of Impressionist painting.

Hawthorne to Hensche

Hawthorne’s reputation as a great painter and educator attracted such scores of artists and writers to Provincetown, that it quickly became the largest art colony in the world. Sadly, Hawthorne died unexpectedly in 1930. In 1935, the school continued under the direction of his most outstanding student, Henry Hensche.

Hensche to Griffel

The Moors Hawthorne and Hensche are credited for keeping American Impressionism alive in the United States. They embodied the single link between French and American Impressionism, even when the modern art movement began overshadowing realistic painting in the early 20th century.

Because of Hawthorne and Hensche, American artists remained faithful to Impressionism’s artistic principles and philosophy.

I was a student of Henry Hensche. In 1986 I was given the great honor of becoming the third director of the school.

In recent years, we have experienced a resurgence of interest in plein air painting in the United States. I am grateful to have been part of this wonderful painting tradition for over 40 years and proud if I had a small part in helping it become embraced in contemporary realist painting today.

"Anything under the sun is beautiful if you have the vision-it is the seeing of the things that makes it so."
Monet to Geffroy, Giverney, 7 June 1912

"Beautiful color is not a God-given gift for the few, but is the reward of any who care enough to make sufficient effort to acquire it."
Henry Hensche

"For me, the thrill and challenge of standing before nature with her endless variety and beauty is a humbling reminder that I must always remain a student. Each painting unlocks answers to understanding light, revealing more of nature’s secrets."
Lois Griffel


Lois Griffel · 520-207-4055 · Email Lois