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Theodore Earl Butler

Born: 1861, Columbus, Ohio, United States of America
Died: 1936, Giverny, France

Place de Rome at Night
1905

Oil on canvas
Image: 23 1/2 x 28 3/4 in. (59.7 x 73.0 cm)
Frame: 30 7/8 x 36 x 4 1/4 in. (78.4 x 91.4 x 10.8 cm)
Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection, 1994.16
Signed: Lower right: T.E. Butler '05; verso: Place de Rome
Artist Name: []

Interpretation

Theodore Earl Butler’s Place de Rome at Night reduces a rainy, nighttime urban vista to a shimmering, blurred mass of gray tones with pink, yellow, and white highlights. Butler pictures the Place de Rome, an open space where several streets converge, from a vantage slightly above street level. Beneath three glowing street-lamps on an island in the plaza, shadowy figures, described in broad, sketchy strokes of dark paint, are mirrored by their own dark reflections on the wet pavement. To the left, a horse-drawn carriage pulls away, one side-lamp a bold spot of red. On the right, the bright lights of a café glow from beneath a broad awning colored a smoky purple in the dimness. In the left distance, the lights of the fashionable Boulevard Haussmann blend into a twinkling mass in the rising moisture-laden vapors. Butler’s spontaneous, nearly monochromatic image captures the distortions effected by the combination of falling rain, shiny wet surfaces, nighttime darkness, and artificial illumination.

Known as the “Place de Rome,” the area depicted by Butler was, in fact, the “Cour de Rome,” the open space in front of the Gare Saint-Lazare, one of Paris’s most important train stations and, in the late-nineteenth century, a symbol of modernity. It held particular significance for Butler, for it was not only the place where American visitors arrived in the French capitol from transatlantic steamships docking in the port of Le Havre but the gateway from Paris to the rural Normandy village of Giverny, the artist’s adopted home. After first arriving in Giverny in 1888 as one of many Americans who made the village an international artists’ colony, Butler became its most permanent expatriate resident with his marriage to a stepdaughter of French painter Claude Monet (1840–1926), a Giverny resident. Under Monet’s influence, Butler adopted the on-site painting method and spontaneous brushwork of impressionism. Place de Rome at Night pays homage to his mentor not only in its spontaneous technique and fidelity to optical effects, but in its urban subject. Rather than embrace the railroad station as did Monet in his 1877 series of paintings, Butler focuses away from it in this work to take in the scene that greeted the visitor to Paris—either the dazzled neophyte first arriving from America or, like the artist himself, the seasoned participant in the city’s vibrant art scene.

Butler and the innumerable other American artists who arrived in Paris in the late-nineteenth century were lured not by awareness of such advanced art as that of Monet, but by opportunities for artistic study and camaraderie. They quickly discovered the city itself as a compelling source of subject matter. At night, the metropolis’s abundant artificial illumination transformed the “City of Light” into a magical fairyland further enhanced by rainy conditions. Many artists exploited these effects, notably Charles Courtney Curran in his Paris at Night (TF1989.12), or sought them out in other cities, as for example Childe Hassam in his Horse Drawn Cabs at Evening, New York (TF1999.66). In comparison to these works, however, Butler’s Place de Rome at Night abandons conventional representation and the symbolic resonance of the train station in favor of recording actual optical experience.

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Provenance

The artist
Lilla Cabot Perry
Descended in family
Sotheby's New York, New York, May 25, 1994, lot 83
Berry-Hill Galleries Inc., New York, New York
Terra Foundation for the Arts, Chicago, Illinois, 1994

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Exhibition History

Un regard américain sur Paris (An American Glance at Paris), Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France (organizer). Venue: Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France, April 11–October 31, 1997.

Ville et campagne: les artistes américains, 1870–1920 (The City and the Country: American Perspectives, 1870–1920), Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France (organizer). Venues: Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France, April 1–July 15, 1999; Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, December 10, 1999–May 7, 2000 (in modified form). [exh. cat.]

American Classics from the Collection, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, May 14–June 15, 2003.

Impressions: American Painters in Paris 1860–1935, Naples Museum of Art, Philharmonic Center for the Arts, Naples, Florida (organizer). Venue: Naples Museum of Art, Philharmonic Center for the Arts, Naples, Florida, January 18–May 13, 2007. [exh. cat.]

Electric Paris, Bruce Museum, Greenwich, Connecticut (organizer); Venue: Bruce Museum, May 14–September 4, 2016 [exh. cat.]

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Published References

Sotheby's New York, New York (Sale 6568, May 25, 1994): lot 83. Ill. lot 83 (color).

Reymond, Nathalie. Un regard américain sur Paris (An American Glance at Paris). Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for the Arts, 1997. Text p. 23; ill. p. 22 (color).

Cartwright, Derrick R. The City and the Country: American Perspectives, 1870–1920. (exh. cat., Musée d'Art Américain Giverny). Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for the Arts, 1999. Text p. 23 (checklist); ill. p. 29 (color).

Cartwright, Derrick R. Ville et campagne: les artistes américains, 1870–1920. (exh. cat., Musée d'Art Américain Giverny). Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for the Arts, 1999. Text p. 23 (checklist); ill. p. 29 (color).

Mancoff, Debra N. Monet's Garden in Art. London, England: Frances Lincoln Limited, 2001.

Gerdts, William H. and David F. Setford. Impressions: Americans in France, 1860–1930 and Claude Monet: Giverny and the North of France. (exh. cat. Naples Museum of Art). Naples, Florida: Naples Museum of Art, 2007. Text pp. 17, 96 (checklist); ill. p. 38 (color).

Karasoulas, Margarita and Hollis Clayson. Electric Paris. (exh. cat., Bruce Museum). Greenwich, Connecticut: Bruce Museum, 2016. Text p. 56, cat. no. 10 (checklist); ill. p. 44 (color).

Meier, Allison. “How Artists Interpreted the Transformation of Paris into a City of Light.” Hyperallergic (July 11, 2016). Accessed July 11, 2016. http://hyperallergic.com/309744/how-artists-interpreted-the-transformation-of-paris-into-a-city-of-light/. Ill. (color).

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