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Steele, T.C. The Bloom of the Grape, 1893


Theodore C. Steele did not see French Impressionist paintings in person in Paris in the 1870s and 1880s; rather he became aware of Impressionism through others’ descriptions of it. T. C. Steele first saw French impressionist paintings at the World’s Columbian Exposition, which was held in Chicago from May through October 1893. He had learned to paint en plein air, or outdoors in front of the motif, while studying informally with fellow American J. Frank Currier outside Munich in the early 1880s. Currier’s dark, tonal palette, however, was quite different from the bright, airy colors of Impressionism. Steele visited the fair at least once and afterwards changed his style of painting toward a much brighter palette, looser brushwork, and attention to atmospheric effects.

  • The Bloom of the Grape, 1893
  • 30 1/8″ x 40 1/8″
  • Indianapolis Museum of Art
  • Keywords: paintings, natural landscapes, oil on canvas
  • Subjects: trees, Hoosier Group, plein air, autumn, rivers

T. C. Steele focused his attention on his native state of Indiana in paintings such as The Bloom of the Grape. According to the art historian Martin F. Krause, “the white gauzy veil that covers grapes at harvest time is its ‘bloom.’ John Keats, Steele’s favorite poet, mentions the effect in his poem ‘I Stood Tip-Toe’ and the painter-poet Steele uses it as a metaphor for the opalescent atmosphere found in Vernon in early November 1893.” Steele wrote to his wife, “Yes, this has been a glorious autumn; there has been but little interruption to its fine weather and while I have seen more color, I don’t think I have seen better color—such dull reds and crimsons and faded yellows and oranges, in juxtaposition with such royal purples. It seems to me I have never before seen such purples and violets with such distinctness and such harmony with the warmer colors.” The autumn weather and colors clearly inspired The Bloom of the Grape, which was painted along the Muscatatuck River.

Some Points to Consider

  • Review the remarks made by the art historian Martin Krause and the poet John Keats. Ask students where in the painting the bloom, a metaphor of opalescent atmosphere, is found. (Art 4.3.2; English Language Arts 4.3.5)
  • Reread Steele’s description of the colors in this painting and ask students to point out those colors that Steele admired. Ask: What philosophy of painting did he demonstrate in The Bloom of the Grape? Was he painting exactly what he saw (imitationalism), a perfectly arranged composition (formalism), or his response to colors he loved (emotionalism)? (Art 4.4.1)