Hugh Henry Breckenridge 1870-1937

Phlox

  • 9 1/2 x 12 1/2 inches (24.1 x 31.8 cm)
  • Pastel
  • Signed lower right: Breckenridge. Inscribed on verso: Phlox by Hugh H. Breckenridge
  • c. 1906

Why We Love It

This delightful pastel is a marvelous example of Breckenridge’s colorful impressionist style. Using an almost pointillist technique, he captures the lively energy of this garden scene with splashes of pink, blue, green, and white in an unusual composition, which verges on the edge of abstraction.

The Value

Works on paper are great opportunities to own artwork by notable artists at less expensive prices. This pastel demonstrates the wonderful impressionist style that Breckenridge was known for, but is more affordable than his oils. The work is in excellent condition and has a lovely period frame.

Artist Background

1870: Born in Leesburg, Virginia; 1887-92: Attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Art, where he was deeply affected by the legacy of Thomas Eakins; 1889: Awarded first Toppan Prize from PAFA; 1892: Awarded PAFA’s Cresson Traveling Scholarship, which enabled him to travel through Europe and study at the Academie Julian with William Bouguereau; 1894-1937: Began teaching at PAFA, where he was a principle instructor. He was also responsible for developing the modernist curriculum at PAFA along with Arthur Carles and Henry McCarter; 1900: Opened the Darby Summer School of Painting with Thomas Anshutz; 1904: First solo exhibition at PAFA: 1909: Traveled to Europe with Walter Schofield and was deeply affected by the modernist painting he saw; 1910s: Worked alternately in a neoimpressionist technique, which he called “tapestry painting,” and a more academic style enriched by an expressionist palette; 1920-37: Established and taught at the Breckenridge School of Art, East Gloucester, Massachusetts; 1922: Began exhibiting abstract paintings, which demonstrated a deep fascination with color theory; 1937: Died.

Breckenridge’s artistic training began at the Pennsylvania Academy of the FIne Arts in 1887.  The academic precision and attention to detail that mark his portraits and still lifes reflect the Academy’s emphasis on drawing, close observation, and accuracy.  Like his peers Robert Henri, Edward Redfield, and Walter Schofield, Breckenridge was affected by the legacy of Thomas Eakins and the artistic philosophy he espoused.  However, the year he spent in Europe (1892), made possible by PAFA’s Cresson Travel Scholarship, deeply affected the direction his art would ultimately take.  His interest in impressionist technique and great love of color first took shape during this initial visit abroad.  A later trip in 1909 with Walter Schofield would further spark his attraction to the avant-garde and modernist painting.  Later as an instructor at PAFA he worked with fellow faculty members Henry McCarter and a young Arthur Carles to establish a modernist curriculum at the Academy.

Over the course of his career, Breckenridge developed two styles: realist portraits and still lifes, which helped him earn a living, and his personal work, which started as impressionist but eventually evolved into expressive abstractions, when his engagement with Modernism reached its peak.  In both bodies of work, Breckenridge’s command of technique is apparent.  Even his most abstract late paintings demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of the discrete elements that comprise a great composition.  In other words, he clearly valued and benefited from his academic training at the Academy.  A 1907 review of his work in the New York Times stated that his paintings “reveal a consummate mastery of his material.”

Phlox is one of Breckenridge’s impressionist pastles. His handling of the marks is almost pointillist in effect (he would go onto develop this technique even further in later work), demonstrating his knowledge of European avant-garde technique.  His observations of the light and sure handling of the forms ground the painting in reality, while the combination of color speaks to his interest in the expressive nature of coloristic effects.  Despite the fact that this work is early, one can see how Breckenridge is already using an allover techniques.  He would eventually take such views of nature and turn them into dazzling abstractions of color, air, and light.