Dennis Miller Bunker was one of the earliest Americans to apply all of the stylistic ingredients of the radical new painting style of Impressionism to his native landscape. Like most artists of his generation, Bunker had been trained as a figure painter, instructed to value traditional compositions and accurate drawing. After polishing his academic education in Paris, he accepted a teaching position in Boston, where he soon became admired for his sophisticated portraits. Bored with conventional approaches to art, Bunker continued to experiment. In 1887 he met the adventurous painter John Singer Sargent [link to ch. 8], and the two young men, both interested in modern French art, theater, and music, became close friends. They spent the summer of 1888 working together in the English countryside, exploring the bright colors and individual brushstrokes of Impressionism.
By the time Bunker returned to Boston, he had fully mastered the new style. Like his French contemporary Claude Monet [25.106]—whose paintings were rapidly entering Boston collections—Bunker preferred anonymous landscapes to well-known sites. He spent the summer of 1889 in Medfield, Massachusetts, painting a series of images of the lush marshy fields near the source of the Charles River. In The Pool, Medfield, Bunker placed the horizon line high on his canvas, a device that serves to flatten the composition, emphasizing its two-dimensional design. Upon this surface, he crafted a dense network of long unblended strokes of color that echo the shapes of the reeds and grasses and the flow of the clear blue water. Bunker’s Pool is a dazzling view of a sun-filled meadow, but it is equally an exploration of the physical act of painting.
This text was adapted from Elliot Bostwick Davis et al., American Painting, MFA Highlights (Boston: MFA Publications, 2003).