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Steele, T.C. The Steps of the Monument, 1902


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 Steps of the Monument, 1902
  • 22″ x 27″
  • Indiana State Museum
  • Keywords: paintings, cultural landscapes, oil on canvas
  • Subjects: outdoors, people, hats, buildings, Hoosier Group

The Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument on the Circle in downtown Indianapolis was designed by Bruno Schmitz of Berlin, Germany. Its cornerstone was laid in 1889, and the monument was dedicated in 1902, the year Steele painted this work. The painting is a sharp contrast in styles. It is painterly, with a thick layer of paint (impasto). The muted colors have been tinted with a lot of white, while brighter colors used to paint the people in the scene are deeper in hue, making it seem as though they are moving.

Some Points To Consider

  • Ask students to describe what makes this painting Impressionist rather than documentary. Ask them what reasons Steele might have had to paint this scene in this style. What mood has he created in this scene? (Art 4.2.2, 4.3.1, 4.4.1)
  • Show the class a photograph of the Monument as it looks today. Ask students to identify items in the contemporary scene that could not have been included in Steele’s 1902 painting. (Art 4.2.3)