John Joseph Enneking was among the earliest of American painters to adopt the style of the French Impressionists. His contact with the work of these artists dates from 1873–76 and 1878 when he was studying in Paris, the years in which the first highly controversial Impressionist exhibitions took place. This was the period in which the style found only a limited number of supporters, even among artists. Yet Impressionism was to remain Enneking's primary approach to painting for the rest of his life.
Spring Scene is one of the finest examples of Enneking's Impressionism, and comes from a series of spring landscapes with flowering trees done within the period spanning the 1880s into the early 1900s. The theme proved to be commercially successful. Here the May landscape is dominated by a flowering white apple tree on the left, juxtaposed against a smaller pink flowering tree. They are the keynotes in a composition of light colors, through which the unifying elements of pink and white are distributed. On the right, for example, the progression into distant space is defined by a smaller white tree and a pink shoreline beyond. Lush greens and turquoise blues complete the view of grass, trees, water and sky.
The subject, palette and technique are most closely related to the work of French Impressionist Claude Monet, with whom Enneking had painted while in France. The line of poplar trees that separate the foreground and background spaces in this painting recall the series of poplar paintings by Monet done only a few years prior to Spring Scene. Enneking's thick impasto paint, applied in small strokes of the brush, also reveals the closeness of this Impressionist style to Monet's. This brushwork is particularly thick on the flowering white tree, helping to establish its dominance in the composition. The blue shadows under the tree follow the Impressionists' rejection of black and grey for shadows.
The locale in which this was painted could have been near the artist's summer home in North Newry, Maine, or, more likely, within the Blue HIlls region near his home in Hyde Park, now part of Boston. Enneking enjoyed the landscape of the Blue Hills so much that he was instrumental in establishing the Blue Hills as a protected reservation, and one of its parkways is named for him.
For fifty years he has been a marked figure in the local art world, both by reason of his forceful and unique personality, and the high ideals in painting he set for himself. A splendidly honest, bluff, kindly man, engaged throughout his long life in an unending search for beauty and the ultimate truth of art—such was John J. Enneking.
This painting was given to the College by alumni not many years after the death of the artist, as a major gift of art, and it remains one of the most important works within the Permanent Collection, housed in the Art Building gallery.
Text by Roger Dunn, Professor of Art