Theodore Earl Butler (1861-1936)

Theodore Earl Butler

Theodore Earl Butler

Theodore Earl Butler was an American impressionist painter. He was born in Columbus, Ohio, and moved to Paris to study art. He was close friend of Claude Monet in Giverny, and married his stepdaughter, Suzanne Hoschedé. Suzanne is known as The woman with a Parasol and she was Claude Monet’s favorite model. The event of their marriage is described by Theodore Robinson in his diaries as a great day. After her death he married her sister, Marthe Hoschedé. Butler was a founding member of the Society of Independent Artists.

Butler’s chosen subjects were domestic scenes of family and friends and the French landscape. Although his Impressionistic approach to painting sometimes reflected the influence of his father-in-law, his work also suggests Post-Impressionist tendencies as well.

Butler studied at Marietta College in Ohio and graduated in 1882. He studied at the Art Students League with James Carroll Beckwith, Kenyon Cox and J. Alden Weir, and under William Merritt Chase from 1884 to 1886. Butler then moved to study in Paris.

In Paris, he became member of La Grande-Chaumière, Académie Colarossi and at Académie Julian. Butler studied under Emile Carolus Duran. Carolus opened an art studio in 1873 on Boulevard Montparnasse, called the “81”. Carolus, who was also known to have given free private lessons to some painters, introduced his students to the work of Claude Monet. Monet had moved to Giverny on April 29, 1883. Butler stayed for some time in the same building as Carolus and won an honorable mention in 1888 at the Paris Salon for a painting entitled “The Widow”.

Angelina and Lucien Baudy opened Hotel Baudy in June 1887. The Hotel became the hub for many American expatriates. At Hotel Baudy, artists could buy canvases from Lefevre Foinet and American food celebrating Thanksgiving was served. The village began to attract a great deal of attention. According to Terra Museum historians Katherine M. Bourguignon and Vanessa Lecomte, over 350 painters from eighteen countries painted in Giverny. An exhibition of foreign artists including Butler, Meteyard, Fox, Dice, Stasburg and Dawson Watson was organized in 1892.

The event of his first marriage was immortalized in a painting by Theodore Robinson titled The Wedding March. Butler became a key player and link between the American Colony and Claude Monet. The Butler family organized many dinners such as one held October 25, 1892 with Robinson, Hale, Hart and Marthe Hoschedé. Then Butler bought an orchard and built a new house.

Butler participated in the publication and conception of the Courier Innocent. He did the cover and illustrated many pages. Butler painted a series of his own family: son Jimmy Butler born in 1893, and daughter Lilly Butler born in 1894. Those paintings included series’ entitled “The Bath”, “After the Bath”, and “Playing with Jimmy”. Butler developed his own impressionist style with light palettes and loose brushstrokes, reminiscent of works done by Édouard Vuillard and Pierre Bonnard. From his garden he painted landscapes showing the church of Giverny, The Demoiselles (small haystacks) and the grain stacks. After a lingering illness, Suzanne Hoschede died in 1899. Thereafter most of Butler’s paintings were landscapes. Marthe Hoschede, Suzanne’s sister helped Butler raise Jimmy and Lilly. In 1899 Theodore Earl Butler decided to go back to the United States. He had several one man shows in New York City. He exhibited in 1900, at Paul Durand-Ruel gallery in New York. After six months he was back in Giverny. He married Marthe Hoschedé, Suzanne’s sister in 1900. The Butler family and the Rose family, Ethel and Guy Rose, rented summer houses in Veules les Roses. Butler was also a close friend of Philip Hale, John Singer Sargent, and Maximilien Luce.

In 1914, the Butler family moved to New York when Butler got a commission to paint mural panels for the home of William Paine. He contributed two paintings to the 1913 Armory Show in New York City, Marine and Fourteenth of July, Paris. He founded with his friend, John Sloan, the Society of Independent Artists and served on its board from 1918 to 1921. The breakout of World War I prevented Butler from returning to Giverny until 1921.

In the meantime, Butler became involved with the American Red Cross and raised funds with Marthe Hoschedé. He marked that occasion with a painting titled “All Together”.

From the time of his first marriage and after the birth of his children, Butler concentrated especially on domestic subjects, painted indoors or in his garden. Monet’s influence on American expatriate painters in Giverny was important, and a similarity between Butler’s palette and that of Monet has been noted in the paintings of the 1890s. Equally noticeable in Butler’s brushwork are qualities that align him with the work of Paul Gauguin and the Nabis artists. In his later work Butler experimented further with Fauve principles, painting landscapes in Giverny and on the Normandy coast, sometimes applying color directly from the tube to decorative ends.

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