DescriptionHUGH HENRY BRECKENRIDGE (American, 1870-1937)
Sky Drama, circa 1917
Oil on canvas laid on board
12-3/4 x 10 inches (32.4 x 25.4 cm)
Signed upper left: Hugh H. Breckenridge
Titled with artist's estate stamp verso: Sky Drama
PROPERTY FROM THE KING COLLECTION, TEXAS
Estate of the above;
Valley House Gallery, Dallas, until 1968;
Vivian O. and Meyer P. Potamkin, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania;
Estate of Vivian O. Potamkin, 2002;
Sotheby's, New York, May 21, 2003, lot 8;
Cline Fine Art, Santa Fe, New Mexico;
Acquired by the present owner from the above, June 2003.
Valley House Gallery, Dallas, "The Paintings of Hugh H. Breckenridge (1870-1937)," November 1967;
William Penn Memorial Museum, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, "An Alumnus Salutes Dickinson College 200th Anniversary: From the Collection of Meyer and Vivian Potamkin," November 1972-January 1973, no. 16, p. 51;
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, "In This Academy: Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (1805-1976)," April 22-December 31, 1976;
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, "American Art from the Vivian O. & Meyer P. Potamkin Collection," June-October 1989;
El Paso Museum of Art, El Paso, Texas, "Modern American Painting 1907-1936: The Maria and Barry King Collection," September 8, 2013-January 5, 2014, no. 66.
Valley House Gallery, The Paintings of Hugh H. Breckenridge (1870-1937), exhibition catalogue, Dallas, 1967, p. 58, no. 73, illustrated;
William Penn Memorial Museum, An Alumnus Salutes Dickinson College 200th Anniversary: From the Collection of Meyer and Vivian Potamkin, exhibition catalogue, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1972, p. 51, no. 16, illustrated;
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, In This Academy: Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (1805-1976), exhibition catalogue, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1976, p. 215, no. 274;
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, "American Art from the Vivian O. & Meyer P. Potamkin Collection," Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1989, p. 8;
D.A. Gillman, American Originals: Vivian L. and Meyer P. Potamkin, Collectors of American Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 2004, p. 48, fig. 7, illustrated (in archival Potamkin family photograph);
P.S. Cable, Modern American Painting 1907-1936: The Maria and Barry King Collection, exhibition catalogue, El Paso Museum of Art, El Paso, Texas, 2013, pp. 164-65, no. 66, illustrated.
Hugh Breckenridge's body of work from 1913 until 1917 was strongly influenced by the flattened forms and compositional structure of Post-Impressionists Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh, as well as by the color of Fauvist Henri Matisse. In 1917 he began to experiment with pure abstraction focusing on color resonance over composition, as exemplified by Sky Drama. These abstractions, most likely influenced by the works of Wassily Kandinsky, are irregular in shape and demonstrate Breckenridge's fascination with color theory. It is works like Sky Drama, a bold expression of the artist's love of color and its liberation on the canvas, that affirm Breckenridge's standing as "The American Vlaminck."
Breckenridge was long associated with Philadelphia as a Modernist painter and teacher. From 1887 to 1892, he was a student at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA), where he then taught for more than forty years. In 1892 he was awarded a scholarship enabling him to study in Paris at the Académie Julian with William Adolphe Bouguereau and to travel throughout Europe, which he did with fellow Pennsylvania painter Walter E. Schofield. Breckenridge's subsequent landscapes, portraits, and figure paintings reveal the influence of Impressionism and an overwhelming fascination with color. His first solo exhibition in 1904 included both paintings and pastels. Breckenridge also produced many commissioned portraits, which provided him with a source of income; these demonstrate the dazzling brushwork typical of society portraiture of the period.
During a second trip to Europe with Schofield in 1909, Breckenridge became very interested in Post-Impressionism. Arthur B. Carles and H. Lyman Sayen, two former students already living in Paris, took him around to the galleries and salons and introduced him to their modernist artist friends including Alfred Maurer, Edward Steichen and Leo and Gertrude Stein.
In 1912, Breckenridge visited New York to meet Arthur Stieglitz at 291. He immediately connected with this group of avant-garde painters, and, in turn, he subscribed to Camera Work and encouraged his students to attend the 1913 Armory Show. That same year, Carles shared his studio with Breckenridge. Their close association firmly implanted into Breckenridge the concepts of the modern color theories of Michel-Eugène Chevreul, as well as abstract design. By this time, Breckenridge worked alternately in a vigorous Neo-Impressionist technique, which he referred to as "tapestry painting," and in a somewhat academic style enriched by an Expressionist palette. These abstractions of irregularly shaped, colored planes most commonly suggest the nature or the velocity of modern life. Above all, they exemplify his fascination with the theoretical basis of color.
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