Reflections on an American Romantic: A Fresh Look at Douglas Arthur Teed (1860-1929)

Two of Hawthorne Fine Art’s newest additions illustrate the experimental changes yet steadfast spirituality of Douglas Arthur Teed’s oeuvre. Teed’s career developed during important transitions from Hudson River School landscape painting, through Tonalism and Impressionism, and even touched on Symbolist and early twentieth century Modernist trends. Teed studied in both the United States and Europe, and traveled in northern Africa and India, experiencing both emerging artistic movements and “exotic” locations that contributed to his late-career Orientalist subjects. Maple Sugar (1883) demonstrates the artist’s transition from finely detailed, carefully observed Hudson River School style to quickly rendered Barbizon-inspired Tonalism. Italian Landscape (1917) is a late work that revives Teed’s earlier Tonalist paintings that were widely successful. Most importantly, both works capture Teed’s intense Romanticism and reverence for nature. The range of Teed’s oeuvre as it spanned the transition from Romanticism to Modernism makes the artist a remarkable figure in American landscape painting

Douglas Arthur Teed, Maple Sugar, 1883. Click to enlarge
Douglas Arthur Teed, Italian Landscape, 1917. Click to enlarge

Douglas Arthur Teed was born on February 21, 1860 in New Hartford, NY (near Utica) to Fidelia M. Rowe and Cyrus R. Teed. Growing up, Teed was surrounded by his father’s spiritual fervor. Cyrus Teed developed a following in New York, and eventually left his family to found a religious sect in Florida called Koreshan Unity. Although Douglas Teed never converted to Koreshanity like his father, these ideas of spirituality were reflected in his mystical and sometimes mysterious works, especially later in his career. Douglas Teed generally had an idealistic perception of the world, and he believed in the spirituality found in God-created nature. The artist thought paintings should be more than aesthetically pleasing; they should create an allegory for this spirituality.

Teed began painting as a young boy, and opened his first studio at age 14. His work always focused on a Romantic depiction of nature, stemming from the Hudson River School tradition that was so prevalent in New York State. When his mother died, Teed went to live in Binghamton, New York, where he built a studio (1889). Teed’s early technique living in upstate New York focused on delicate, faithful representations of nature based on the artist’s own close observation of his subjects. However, Teed also spent time in the studio of George Inness, most likely in the early 1880s. Inness was a convert to the Barbizon movement that originated in France in and near Fontainebleau, and focused heavily on Swedenborgian spirituality as reflected in the peace and harmony of nature. HFA’s Homeward Bound from 1865 is a striking example of Inness’s early transition to Tonalism.

George Inness, Homeward Bound, 1865. Click to enlarge

After working with George Inness and experiencing Inness’s transition to American Barbizon painting, Teed painted Maple Sugar (1883). This charming image of a forest interior that nearly qualifies as genre painting captures Teed’s close observation of nature in the texture of the tree bark and the hazy atmosphere of the snowy forest on a dreary winter day. However, the thick impasto that appears in the tree trunks and in the dash of white snow on the roof of the cabin reveals the influence of Inness’s more rapid paint application in the Tonalist manner. Despite this move toward a Tonalist manner of painting, Teed still infuses this composition with his Romantic sensibility and reverence for nature. The monumental size of the trees dwarfs the figures and cabin, sheltering them in a cathedral-like embrace, while the subject of extracting resources from the environment alludes to a harmony between man and nature.

In 1890, Douglas Teed traveled to Italy for further study. The artist attempted classical depictions of the Roman Compagna, but also conveyed his Romantic sensibility through Tonalist depictions of the Italian landscape. While in Europe, Teed attended the Universal Expositions in both Paris (1891) and Munich (1892) where he would have viewed contemporary European paintings, and paintings by Americans living in Europe. After this, Teed eventually began incorporating Impressionist techniques into his manner of painting. One critic described Teed’s paintings in 1905: “Mr. Teed’s landscapes are said to recall the soft effects of Corot, though his style is so original that it would hardly be correct to speak of any other artist. His genre work is superb, and whether he finds inspiration in the warm tones of Southern Europe or the cooler tints of the more temperate zones, his work displays the same qualities of breadth and individuality.”[1]

In 1897, Teed married Ms. George E. C. Earle and moved to Hallstead, PA, where he built a studio (referred to by neighbors as “Teed’s Castle”) overlooking the Susquehanna River. Between 1907 and 1911 Douglas and George Teed visited Egypt, Morocco, India, and Algeria, where the artist developed his interest in Orientalism. Teed had already created Orientalist works based on reproductions of paintings by European Orientalists, but after this trip he began creating his own original Orientalist paintings. These paintings combine this Romantic and exotic perception of Africa and the Near East with Impressionist painting techniques, since Teed had never trained in the academic painting style.

For the remainder of his career, Teed continued to experiment with different painting styles, always infusing his subjects with a sense of mysticism. In 1917, the year Italian Landscape was painted, George Earl Teed died, resulting in Douglas Teed’s relocation to Detroit. Despite his personal loss, Teed was financially successful in Detroit, selling his paintings for high prices to wealthy industrialists. His buyers preferred established art forms like Tonalism and Impressionism, manners in which Teed continued to work. Italian Landscape is an example of the Barbizon-inspired Italian landscapes Teed began painting after his trip to Italy in 1890, yet it is dated much later. Teed managed to balance experimental and highly mystical paintings with more widely accepted manners throughout the changing artistic movements in the early twentieth century. Italian Landscape, therefore, is a later example of Teed’s devotion to a Romantic manner of painting that captured a divine sense of harmony in nature. In this image, the sun hangs low over the horizon line, bathing the landscape in a glowing light and silhouetting the distant Italian architecture. A lone figure stands in the middle ground taking in the scene while simultaneously becoming a part of nature to the painting’s viewer.

Teed continued to paint subjects related to his foreign travels throughout his career, leading one writer to ask the artist if he found it difficult to remember the details. Teed responded, “On the contrary, I have a much better perspective now of what I saw there. Also, as the superfluous details leave my memory, the really important ones stand out all the more clearly.”[2] Interestingly, Thomas Cole (1801-1848), the founder of the Hudson River School of landscape painting, made a similar argument almost a century earlier. Cole stated, “…I never succeed in painting scenes, however beautiful, immediately on returning from them. I must wait for time to draw a veil over the common details, the unessential parts, which shall leave the great features, whether the beautiful or the sublime dominant in the mind.”[3] These similar attitudes to the profound effects of nature and subject matter connect Douglas Teed’s constantly developing style with the foundation of American Romanticism as put forward by Thomas Cole and the first generation of Hudson River School artists.

[1] Lucie Page Borden, “Distinguished Artist at Estero,” The Flaming Sword (May 30, 1905): 14; Quoted in Pamela Beecher, Douglas Arthur Teed: An American Romantic, 1860-1929 (Elmira, NY: Arnot Art Museum, 1982), 28.

[2] Velmas Stevens Hitchcock, “Color, Clay and Crafty,” Club Woman, Vol. 19 (September, 1926): 25; Quoted in Beecher, 31.

[3] Cole to Asher B. Durand, Catskill, 4 January 1838, NYSL; quoted in Noble, The Life and Works of Thomas Cole, 185.


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