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May Night (Willard Metcalf painting)

Metcalf arrived in Old Lyme at the invitation of his friend Childe Hassam, and summered there from 1905 to 1907. During the spring, summer and autumn of 1906 Metcalf enjoyed what was to that point his most productive year, finishing twenty-six paintings. With greater productivity as a landscape painter came an increased exploration of different themes, seasons, and times of day. One of the themes that Metcalf attempted was the nocturne, a subject which had become popular in the Old Lyme colony of artists. The subject's romantic associations and subtle color harmonies reconciled the opposing tendencies of Tonalism and Impressionism within the colony. By 1903 Frank DuMond had begun teaching the painting of moonlight subjects to his students in Old Lyme, and the theme was popular as a studio alternative to painting outdoors in poor weather. In July 1906 Hassam wrote about Metcalf to J. Alden Weir: "Metty is working hard at a moonlight. We are all doing moonlights. The weather has been so bad that we have been forced to it." Metcalf began painting May Night in the spring of 1906, and finished it in early September. The subject is the front lawn and facade of the Griswold House, its Ionic columns seen in an atmospheric moonlight. In the foreground, shadows are cast on the lawn by trees. Touches of warmth are provided by the light emanating from within the house. Two figures are present: One woman walks across the lawn toward the house while another sits on the front porch, each of them clad in long pale dresses, which, for Metcalf biographer Bruce W. Chambers, heighten "the feeling of elegant tranquility."
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