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JOHN LESLIE BRECK

IN THE VALLEY OF THE SEINE, 1889

About the Artwork

In the Valley of the Seine is one of Breck’s largest and most ambitious compositions. Breck was committed to Impressionism and its stated ideal of making finished works outdoors directly from nature, but it seems likely that he completed this canvas indoors, in his studio. Its large format would have made it difficult to carry up the steep hills behind the village, and the composition seems scrupulously planned and carefully executed.

Breck depicted the entire panorama of the Seine river valley, looking out past the rooftops of the village and its cultivated fields and grainstacks to the distinctive poplar trees that line the riverbed (all subjects being explored by Monet in several series of paintings). Breck used varied brushstrokes of bright greens, blues, purples, oranges, and yellows, stippling his canvas to capture the flicker of leaves in the trees and drawing out his brush to show the long furrowed lines of the fields. The scene seems suffused with the moist light of summer; the haze is strongest over the unseen river, obscuring the distant hills and rising to form billowing clouds.

Despite the omniscient viewpoint and the comprehensive scope he employed—characteristics shared by more traditional landscape painters—Breck embraced a key component of French Impressionism for In the Valley of the Seine. His scene tells no story; it records no place of historic significance, nor does it attempt to imbue the natural with the divine. This lack of narrative, either explicit or implied, is one of the key features of Impressionist painting. There was no desire to tell stories—long the justification for traditional art, which was valued for the moral lessons it could teach. Instead, a simple view of an unremarkable landscape at one particular moment on an ordinary day was held to be an eminently suitable subject for art.

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