[Robert] Bruce Crane (1857-1937). "Salt Marsh Sunset, Easthampton," oil on canvas, relined, 25 1/8 x 30 1/4,
CRANE PAINTED HERE, MORNING, NOON, AND SUNSET!
Bruce Crane was born Robert Bruce Crane in New York City in 1857. Crane was a contemporary and friend of John Francis Murphy, both of the artists having studied with Wyant (1836-92). Crane started with Wyant in the mid 1870s. But Crane lived long enough to complete the transition from Wyant's 19th-century pleine air work to full tonalism and then to a highly individual impressionism. He went on to study at the Art Students League in New York and then went to France, where he took up the Barbizon style under the tutelage of Cazin in Grez-sur-Loing. He returned in the 1880s, when he painted in the Adirondacks and where he wrote to his father that among the influential painters working nearby at the time were Eastman Johnson, George and James Smillie, and Samuel Colman.
By 1900, Crane's palette turned somber, and Childe Hassam, whose first New York studio (1905) was in the same small building by Washington Square, called him "extremely introspective." This likely reflects his first wife's growing alcoholism, and Crane's first marriage ended in a troubled divorce that saw him marry his 21-year-old artist step-daughter. After World War I, Crane came to favor a moody-grey highly personal impressionism along with stark, barren images, and his best work is now regarded as the tonalist production of the 1890s and the first decade of the new century.
In the years from 1898 through 1908, Crane would paint his most valuable canvases, executed as tonalist masterpieces that unite the sky and shadow, often at sunset. Some critics think this dramatic sunset was painted along the Mohawk River, but that is an error, and the series is clearly Peconic in origin. He worked the salt marsh from an exactly identical perspective at different times of day from sunrise to sunset. This earlier setting is only recently known, and we reproduce it here, solely for comparative purposes. Salt Marsh Sunset, Easthampton is a brilliant and important painting that speaks its art with a clarity and mastery that is rarely seen. We think it may be Crane's ultimate statement, and we prefer Crane's works, in this high tonalist mode. We think they memorialize his discovery of the richness of the atmospheric color spectrum that he shows here with typical yellow, orange and umber shades. His sunset perfectly captures the complete drama of a dynamic sky, highlighted in the sun's final passage to darkness--a passage that Crane's vision shows as ultimately triumphant.
Same setting painted closer to high noon.