Theodore Clement Steele, American, 1847–1926
Oil on canvas
50.8 cm x 40.95 cm | 20 in x 16 1/8 in
Framed: 76.2 cm x 73.66 cm x 8.25 cm | 30 in x 29 in x 3 1/4 in
With permission, Indianapolis Museum of Art / Newfields
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Alpheus Snow | Memory of Mr. and Mrs. John M. Butler
Accession Number: 21.11
This portrait of an unknown young woman was completed when T.C. Steele was studying in Munich, Germany at the Royal Academy of Art from 1880 – 1885.
The Royal Academy omitted landscape painting from their curriculum, but Steele and his classmates created their own program of study, and it appears the influence of the Academy on the students is present in the painting’s dark tonality.
“The youthful model’s facial features emerge from dark shadows and an unadorned background. Turned away from the viewer, the figure gazed in to the distance, exemplifying the meditative drama promoted by Steele’s Munich instructors.”²
In an 1886 letter written to fellow Hoosier Group artist J. Ottis Adams to Steele advised;
“Drop all of Munich but your training. Keep the technical ability and the artistic insight, and exercise them upon American subjects, American portraits, life and landscape”.³
Today, most people are familiar with T.C. Steele landscape paintings and Brown County home and studio. However, portraiture sustained him and his family financially. He painted portraits in the late 1880’s to repay investors, led by Herman Lieber for his Royal Academy education.
Many of these portraits are publically visible today including five Indiana Governors (Albert Porter, Issac Gray, Alvin Hovey, Ira Chase, Claude Matthews) which all hang in the Indiana State Capitol. He also painted Civil War Governor Oliver Morton (but not his official portrait). Other notable people included President Benjamin Harrison, Vice President Charles W. Fairbanks, May Wright Sewall, Indiana University President William Lowe Bryan, Eli Lilly, Clemens Vonnegut, Sr., Lyman S. Ayres, James Whitcomb Riley, Washington C. DePauw, Charles Emmerich, A.C. Shortridge, Herman Lieber and many, many others
Refer to the portrait of Indiana Governor Albert Gallatin Porter and you will see strong similarities in this portrait to those of Munich Girl, as it reflects the method of painting he was taught in Munich. The tones are dark, the color scheme is dominantly brown, and the form melt into the background. Steele painted Munich Girl in 1884 and Governor Porter just after he returned to Indianapolis from Munich in 1885.
The Passage: Return of Indiana Painters from Germany, 1880-1905
The painting Summer Days at Vernon was used at the Jacket Illustration for The Passage – Return of Indiana Painters from Germany: 1880 – 1905
The Passage traces the progress of a generation of Hoosier artists who studied together at the Royal Academy of Painting in Munich in the 1880’s and returned to the United States to achieve national prominence as landscape painters. Such artists include Theodore Clement Steele, John Otis Adams, Samuel Richards, and William Forsythe.
Krause, Martin. The Passage – Return of Indiana Painters from Germany: 1880-1905. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990.
Indianapolis Museum of Art – Newfields https://discovernewfields.org/do-and-see/places-to-go/indianapolis-museum-art
¹Indianapolis Museum of Art – Collections http://collection.imamuseum.org/artwork/56209/
²Indianapolis Museum of Art – Collections http://collection.imamuseum.org/artwork/37771/