Theodore Earl Butler was an American impressionist painter, living and working mainly in Giverny, France, close to Monet.
Born 16 October 1861, Columbus, Ohio
Died 2 May1936, Giverny
Butler was born in Columbus, Ohio, where his father was an influential businessman.
Graduating from College in Marietta, Ohio, Butler had little interest in a business career. He took art lessons from a local painter, Albert C. Fauley (1859-1919), and in 1882 departed for New York, where he enrolled in the Art Students League, a progressive school. There he studied under William Merritt Chase from 1884 to 1886.
In the company of friend and fellow student Philip Leslie Hale, Butler sailed for Europe in 1885 in pursuit of further training. Many hundreds of American art students came to France during the late 19th century to study art. Some even enrolled at the École des Beaux Arts in Paris. To be considered for entry, students had to pass an intense entrance exam given in French.
In Paris, Butler enrolled at private studio schools La Grande-Chaumière, Atelier Colarossi and at Académie Julian.
Butler won his first prize in 1888: an honorable mention at the Paris Salon for a painting entitled "La Veuve" (the Widow).
That year, he accompanied his friend Theodore Robinson to Giverny to meet its most famous resident, French painter Claude Monet (1840-1926), a master of impressionism. Under Monet's influence, Butler soon began to paint garden scenes and studies of figures posed outdoors in loose strokes of brightly colored paint. Butler was among the very few Americans admitted to Monet's inner circle.
In 1892, he married one of Monet's four stepdaughters, Suzanne. She 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 and was also immortalized by a painting by Theodore Robinson titled The Wedding March.
Theodore Butler became a key player and link between the American Colony and Claude Monet. The Butler family organized many dinners and other events.
With the births of the couple's two children, Butler turned his attention to indoor scenes of family and friends. Butler painted a series of his own family: his son Jimmy Butler, born in 1893, and his daughter Lilly Butler, born in 1894. Those paintings described the daily life of his family. Most of them were done indoors.
Butler developed his own impressionist style with light palettes and loose brushstrokes, reminiscent of works done by Edouard Vuillard and Pierre Bonnard. In 1897 he had a solo exhibition at the gallery of the farsighted Paris dealer Ambroise Vollard, a champion of such avant-garde artists' circles as Les Nabis ("prophets"), and Les Fauves ("wild beasts"), so called for the strong, expressive, often eccentric color of their paintings.
Following Suzanne Butler's illness and death in 1899, the artist moved temporarily to New York, where he painted expansive views of the city, especially the Brooklyn Bridge. He had several one man shows in New York. He exhibited in 1900, at Paul Durand-Ruel gallery in New York.
After six months Butler returned to Giverny and married Suzanne's sister Marthe, who had cared for the children. The artist became a permanent resident of Giverny, where his home was a hospitable center of the American artists' colony.
From this point on most of Butler's paintings were landscapes. From his garden he did many landscapes depicting the church of Giverny, The Demoiselles (small haystacks) and the grain stacks.
Marriages to Claude Monet's two step daughters brought him closer to Monet than any other of the American expatriates. Blanche Hoschedé-Monet, John Singer Sargent, and James P. Butler, Theodore's son, were the only other painters who ever painted in Claude Monet's garden although John Leslie Breck might have done one painting.
The Butler family and the Rose family, Ethel and the American impressionist painter Guy Rose, spent a lot of time together. During the summer they rented houses in Veules-les-Roses. He was also a close friend of Philip Hale, John Singer Sargent, and Maximilien Luce.
In 1913, 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.
The outbreak of World War I prevented Butler from returning to Giverny.
He was active among progressive art circles, exhibiting in the so-called Armory Show, a groundbreaking display of international modernist art. Additionally, Butler founded, along with his friend John Sloan, the Society of Independent Artists and served on its board from 1918 to 1921.
Butler returned to Giverny in 1921. His work found considerable support and he exhibited frequently in Europe and in the United States.
On his death in Giverny at the age of seventy-four, he was buried in the village cemetery adjacent to the Monet family.
Oil paintings in museum collections
Birmingham Museum of Art, UK
- Flags, oil on canvas, dated 1918, 42 1/4 x 27 1/4 in. (107.3 x 69.2 cm), Inv. No AFI20.2005
New York City, USA ; Metropolitan Museum of Art
- Un Jardin, Maison Baptiste ,Date: 1895 , Accession Number: 1976.340.1
Provo, Utah, USA ; Brigham Young University Museum of Art
- ALTAR AT GIVERNY, 1908, 64.8 x 54.9 cm (25 1/2 x 21 5/8") , Oil on canvas on board , Inv. No. 820020400
- BRIDGE AT VERNON , 1905, 54.3 x 72.1 cm (21 3/8 x 28 3/8") , Oil on canvas on board , Inv. No. 820017700
- FISH WEIRS AT VEULES LES ROSES, 1905, 48.9 x 71.1 cm (19 1/4 x 28"), Oil on canvas on board, Inv. No. 820021101
- GARDEN PATH WITH IRIS, 1907, 72.1 x 36.8 cm (28 3/8 x 14 1/2"), Oil on canvas on board, Inv. No. 820021102
- GIVERNY - THE SCHOOL, 1904, 65.4 x 81.3 cm (25 3/4 x 32"), Oil on canvas on board, Inv. No. 820020200
- GIVERNY--TREES, WIND, AND SNOW, 1892
61 x 65.4 cm (24 x 25 3/4"), Oil on canvas on board, Inv. No. 820019400
- WINTER SCENE IN GIVERNY, 1910, 60 x 73.7 cm (23 5/8 x 29"), Oil on canvas, Inv. No. 958510000
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA ; Carnegie Museum of Art
- Girl in Lavender, Seated at a Desk, 1908
Giverny, France ; Musée des Impressionnismes
Vernon, France ; Musée Alphonse Georges Poulain
- Paysage au bord de l'eau , Inventory number 26.3.1.
- Coucher de soleil à veules les roses, Inventory number 91.10.1
Chicago, Illinois, USA ; Terra Foundation for American Art
- The Card Players, 1896, Oil on canvas, 25 3/4 x 32 1/8 in. (65.4 x 81.6 cm), Inv.No. 1992.21
- Le Dejeuner, 1897, Oil on canvas, 21 1/4 x 25 5/8 in. (54.0 x 65.1 cm), Inv.No. 1987.3
- Place de Rome at Night, 1905, Oil on canvas, 23 1/2 x 28 3/4 in. (59.7 x 73.0 cm), Inv.No. 1994.16
- Lili Butler Reading at the Butler House, Giverny, 1908, Oil on canvas, 28 7/8 x 23 1/2 in. (73.3 x 59.7 cm), ), Inv.No. 1993.8
Wichita Art Museum, Kansas, USA
- Apple Trees, Giverny (1905), 23 3/4 x 28 in., oil on canvas, Inv. No. 1995.6
Theodore Earl Butler (1860-1936), American Impressionist: Exhibition, June 16 - July 15, 1972, Maxwell Galleries, Ltd. With exhibition catalog.
Richard H. Love, Theodore Earl Butler: Emergence from Monet's Shadow, Haase-Mumm Publishing Company, 1985
Sally Gross, Theodore Earl Butler: 1860 - 1936: His Life and Work, Bryn Mawr College, Department of History of Art, 1982