Theodore Clement Steele, American, 1847–1926
Oil on canvas
76.2 cm x 114.935 cm | 30 in x 45 1/4 in
Framed: 93.34 cm x 131.44 cm x 8.25 | 36 3/4 in x 51 3/4 in x 3 1/4 in
Signed and dated lower left, T.C. Steele / 87
With permission, Indianapolis Museum of Art, John Herron Fund
Accession Number: 89.1
This landscape painting in Vernon, Indiana features a beautiful dry stone retaining wall and four cows grazing along a creek. The deeper wine colored autumn leaves are most likely red oaks. Oaks of Vernon was painted a year after Street in Vernon (1886) and before Summer Days at Vernon (1892). Steele painted landscapes in the Indiana towns of Vernon, Yontsville, Spencer and Metamora after he returned from studying in Munich from 1880 – 1885.
The Steele’s lived in Tinker Place in Indianapolis after returning from Germany, and the family would have been living at this residence when Oaks of Vernon was painted.
In 1886, probably during the summer, Steele built a studio in the yard at Talbot Place, northeast of the house, where there were no trees to interfere with the light, fulfilling a long-held wish of Libbie’s that, when they returned to Indianapolis, the studio could be at home.¹
His first trip to what was become one of his favorite painting spots, Vernon and the Muscatatuck River valley, was in 1886. At least three of his paintings from this area were in the Steele’s show sponsored by the Art Association in November of 1886: “On the Muscatatuck,” “Beech Avenue,” and “Afternoon on the Muscatatuck.” This exhibit, held in Pfafflin’s Hall at the corner of Mississippi Street and Indiana Avenue, in Indianapolis included nearly one hundred and fifty of his sketches and paintings, many of them from the Munich period.¹
The Vernon and Muscatatuck River valley became a favorite of T.C. Steele’s and he returned there repeatedly for about eight years. Fellow Hoosier Group painter William Forsyth, frequently accompanied him on those outings.¹
¹House of the Singing Winds. Steele, Selma N, Steele, Theodore, L, Peat, Wilbur D., Indiana Historical Society, Indianapolis, Indiana, 1966.