Object of the Week: Sunny Day by Roswell Stone Hill

While Roswell Stone Hill (1861-1907) was born in Kansas, he considered the Northeast his home. When he was six years old Hill moved with his family to Bridgeport, Connecticut, a city the artist would return to at multiple times in his life. Bridgeport was a small town that Hill watched change into a major commercial center as rapid industrialization took place in the years following the Civil War. Hill left Bridgeport in 1880 to study painting with James Carroll Beckwith, a respected American portrait painter, at the Art Students League of New York. After two years in the city, Hill returned to Bridgeport to launch his artistic career. He advertised himself in the Bridgeport City Directory as an artist, noting that his crayon portraits were “a specialty.”

Studying art in Paris was considered a crucial step in a serious artist’s career in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In 1890, Hill left Bridgeport to study under French painter Jean-Leon Gerome. During his study under Gerome, Hill shared an apartment with American landscape painter Allen Butler Talcott. Hill ultimately remained in Paris for three years, notably during the decade when the French Impressionists gained critical and financial success.

Syracuse became Hill’s home in 1898 when he was hired as a professor of painting and watercolors at Syracuse University’s College of Fine Arts. Hill, an early adopter of American Impressionism, embracing the style at the turn of the century with works such as Sunny Day, a painting of the Erie Canal. Hill captured the changing color and light of a bright Syracuse day with energetic brush strokes and dabs of paint. In an article in the Syracuse Sunday Herald from 1900, Hill was described as exemplifying a sharp, new approach to art, bringing his “keen American intelligence to bear on artistic problems—problems of light, the light of noonday, moonlight, or artificial light, the study of planes and values and almost more than all of interesting problems in composition …. His color work is free and broad and bold, and is especially charming to see in Syracuse.”

Sunny Day is currently on view in A Legacy of Firsts: The Everson Collects, an exhibition that examines over one hundred years of the Museum’s collecting priorities, from the Museum’s earliest acquisitions in 1911 to work acquired in 2019. A Legacy of Firsts is on view through March 22, 2020.

-Kelli Fisher, Curatorial Intern

Roswell Stone Hill, Sunny Day, 1903, oil on canvas, 24 x 32 inches, Everson Museum of Art; Museum purchase, 13.112.2