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    ROBERT SPENCER (American, 1879-1931)
    A River Mill Town
    Oil on canvas
    30 x 36 inches (76.2 x 91.4 cm)
    Signed lower left: Robert Spencer

    Dreyfus family collection, Bronxville, New York;
    Private collection, Bronxville, New York, gift from the above, circa late 1950s;
    By descent to the present owner.

    Best known for his vibrant and skillful Impressionistic depictions of New Hope, Pennsylvania, a picturesque village in the borough of Bucks County, Robert Spencer was among the most prominent members of the Impressionist art colony founded there by Edward Redfield and William L. Lathrop. Spencer gained repute for his scenic, expressive depictions of life in this bucolic community, often depicting the mills, tenements, and factories of New Hope and its outlying areas. "A landscape without a building or a figure," Spencer was known to have said, "is a very lonely picture to me." Likely influenced by Robert Henri and other Ashcan School painters during his time as an art student in New York, Spencer chose working-class subjects from everyday life and employed a varied palette, often Tonalist or Ashcan in nature, setting him apart from his more traditional regional Impressionist peers.

    A River Mill Town is a grand, vivid and bustling view of village life perhaps inspired by the landscape and culture of Bucks County along the Delaware canal, but likely primarily conjured in Spencer's imagination, derived from his idealistic vision of life in rural France. Not traveling to Europe until 1925, the artist painted whimsical European-inspired scenes from around 1918 that comprised elements from his own romantic notions of the way a European village would have appeared. Painted with his signature meticulously abbreviated brushstrokes and masterful, tight Impressionist style, A River Mill Town is an everyday scene elevated to a grandiose scale, populated with colorfully dressed figures, sunlit buildings, vivid reflections and dappled jewel-like color.

    Born in Nebraska in 1879 as the son of a Swedenborgian minister, Spencer decided to move to New York City and become an artist after beginning studies in medicine for a brief period. He enrolled at the National Academy of Design in 1899 and later studied with William Merritt Chase and Robert Henri at the New York School of Art. In 1906, Spencer moved to the rural Bucks County region in nearby southeastern Pennsylvania. There he studied with celebrated Bucks County painter Daniel Garber, with whom he lived and apprenticed in 1909, and began to develop the skillful Impressionist technique for which he would become known.

    Spencer became one of the most visible artists in the New York art world in the early twentieth century. His first major success occurred in 1914, when the Metropolitan Museum of Art purchased one of his major early works, Repairing the Bridge. Soon after, the famous collector Duncan Phillips turned his attention toward Spencer's work, ultimately purchasing eight of the artist's canvases, which are now housed in the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. Subsequently in 1915, Spencer attained another coveted achievement, winning a gold medal at the prestigious Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco.

    Over the twenty-five years he resided in New Hope, Spencer remained one of the most popular painters in the art colony. Sadly, however, throughout his life, Spencer would suffer from periods of depression, enduring several nervous breakdowns in the 1920s, and in 1931, he took his own life.

    After Spencer's death, Duncan Phillips, who had become a great friend of the artist, praised Spencer as "a rebel always against the standardized and stereotyped in art." Phillips believed that "there [was] no other painter, not John Sloan or Edward Hopper, more pungently American in expression."

    Robert Spencer's work is featured in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the Carnegie Institute, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Detroit Institute of the Arts, and the James A. Michener Art Museum, among numerous distinguished private collections.

    Condition Report*: Soft glue-lined canvas; under UV exam, does not appear to be inpainting; overall very good condition. Framed Dimensions 39 X 45 Inches
    *Heritage Auctions strives to provide as much information as possible but encourages in-person inspection by bidders. Statements regarding the condition of objects are only for general guidance and should not be relied upon as complete statements of fact, and do not constitute a representation, warranty or assumption of liability by Heritage. Some condition issues may not be noted in the condition report but are apparent in the provided photos which are considered part of the condition report. Please note that we do not de-frame lots estimated at $1,000 or less and may not be able to provide additional details for lots valued under $500. All lots are sold "AS IS" under the Terms & Conditions of Auction.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    November, 2012
    15th Thursday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 5
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 4,202

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