John Joseph Enneking   Click Images to Enlarge
America's first impressionist, John Joseph Enneking was as good an academic draftsman as he was an impressionist. His most sought-after subjects utilized confidently laid down colorful pigments with thick impasto. He is known for having painted competently the four seasons and collectors seek out his New England landscapes and figural pieces. The artist's best impressionistic period for impressionism is 1885-1899.
Enneking’s summer home was in North Newry, Maine and he was exceedingly familiar with the area. From North Newry he traveled to the White Mountains each summer and fall to paint the expansive landscape there. His use of light and color within this well-designed landscape gives the illusion of expanse. It is a charming "nature slice of life" that the ecologically oriented Enneking aspired to "conserve" on canvas.
Enneking was born October 4, 1841 in Minster, Ohio, the son of German-born farmer Joseph Enneking and Margaretha Bramlage. Enneking drew landscapes, horses and caricatures of teachers in charcoal and crayon from childhood and local villagers dubbed him Minster's "Artist." After his parents died in 1856, the artist went to Cincinnati to live with an aunt and uncle and it was there he first saw art exhibitions and resolved to become a painter. To earn his keep, he began a successful tin ware company. In 1858 he took drawing lessons at Cincinnati's Mount St. Mary's College and by 1861 he fought as a Union soldier during the Civil War until he was wounded and taken a prisoner by the Confederates. He was released as a prisoner and Civil War records state that the artist disserted and fled to Boston to paint.
At the age of 23, Enneking studied print making in Boston, married Mary E. Eliot of Maine, built a home in Hyde Park, MA and secured a letter of introduction to the French artist Leon Joseph Bonnet from Frederick V. Porter of Boston. In 1872 Enneking's palette took on a Barbizon tonality as he trained at the Munich Academy with Adolph-Heinrich Lier and Eduard Schleich. He painted in Italy and the Alps before entering Paris to study figure painting with Leon Bonnat and landscape painting with Charles Daubigny.
By 1873, Enneking was highly influenced by the brushwork of Monticelli that reminded the artist of crushed jewels and the Impressionist movement highly influenced the artist because he was there in Paris with the artists painting "wildly and brilliantly." By the end of 1873, Enneking's entourage included Millet, Corot, Renoir, Monet, Pissarro and Manet and Enneking became one of the first American painters to paint alongside Monet and Pissarro in Claude Monet's Argenteuil garden in 1873 and 1874. His return to Boston in 1876 was filled with enthusiasm for Impressionism and he helped guide and encourage 100s of painters to go to France to train with Monet and his devotees.
After his 1876 return to Boston, Enneking set up a studio next to Childe Hassam and George Fuller and he was quickly recognized as a pre-eminent impressionist who could solidly paint any object or vista in a convincing "modern" manner. Having one-man shows in Boston and Philadelphia, and winning medals for excellence by 1878, the artist again sailed for Paris to paint outdoors in Holland. Intermingling the best artistic techniques of the Barbizon and French Impressionist painters, Enneking developed a unique artistic style. Although some Bostonians narrowly dubbed him "The New England Sunset Painter" his subjects and style were diversified and ever-changing. He often combined the darker palette of the Barbizon school with the brushwork of an impressionist in his sunset canvases and because of his unique way of laying down paint and colors in these subjects, they brought attention.
In 1886, The Boston Journal quoted Enneking’s philosophy: "I'm a disciple of the esthetic, the beautiful….Study nature, nature is truth." In 1903 Wisdom Monthly called Enneking "the great landscape painter;" the Dictionary of American Biography said he was "the interpreter of New England" and Brush & Pencil wrote that Enneking's paintings glow, illuminate in rich hues and warm atmospheres and have "spontaneity" and "impulse."
Enneking became a member of the Boston Art Club, the Guild of Boston Artists and many other art groups but he rejected an invitation from Tarbell, Benson and DeCamp to become a member of The Ten (1898) because he did not want to be strictly categorized as any type of painter.
Enneking was considered a conservation "activist." He wanted to preserve nature, not destroy it. Because he felt so strong about ecological issues, he was elected Boston's Park Commissioner so that he could protect the city's park environments. Nevertheless, his primary focus was painting and he earned a lucrative living as a painter until his death.
In 1916, sculptor Cyrus Dallin crowned Enneking with a wreath of laurel at a dinner in his honor in Boston, named him "the supreme artist of New England" and applauded his canvases of trout brooks, mountain vistas, apple blossoms and genres. When Enneking died in Hyde Park, MA in November 1916 the art world mourned the loss of a master impressionist and memorial exhibitions were held throughout New England.
Enneking was pivotal in introducing Impressionism to artists throughout New York and New England because he was the first American who returned to the United States an impressionist after having painted alongside Claude Monet in Paris. During a period when Sargent, Tarbell, Benson, DeCamp, Hunt, Reid, Bunker, Paxton and the Hales were painting in Boston, Enneking was revered as the city's premiere landscapist and he died one of its wealthiest artists.
Reference: Pierce, Patricia Jobe, John Joseph Enneking, American Impressionist Painter (1972); Falk, Who Was Who in American Art; "Who's Who in American Art," American Art Annuals (1910, 1915)