American Impressionist Society | In the Footsteps of Manet

By Bonnie Gangelhoff

Painter Édouard Manet once said, “I paint what I see, and not what others like to see.” During the late 1800s, French Impressionists like Manet, Monet, Renoir, and Degas were considered outrageously modern. These renegade artists were castigated for stretching the bounds of reality: They created a new way of seeing that emphasized the shapes, colors, and light of a scene. Their aesthetic has endured to become one of the most influential and appreciated styles of painting in modern times.

Today the American Impressionist Society carries on their legacy. This month the group presents its annual members’ show at Saks Galleries in Denver, CO. Paintings by more than 200 top contemporary impressionists are on view, including works by AIS master artists Scott Burdick, Kim English, Albert Handell, C.W. Mundy, Peggi Kroll-Roberts, Calvin Liang, Kevin Macpherson, and Zhiwei Tu.

“These are artists who have given thought to what they are trying to do with light, color, and shape. Their paintings are the living embodiment of the tradition of Pissarro, Monet, and William Merritt Chase,” says gallery owner Mikkel Saks.

What is now one of the country’s leading organizations of impressionist painters began in 1998 as the brainchild of Florida-based artist Charlotte Dickinson. “I wanted to start it to honor my mentor, William Schultz. He really brought out the creative side of my work by teaching me how to paint my impressions rather than creating a photographic rendering,” she says.

Along with Dickinson, Schultz was one of the four co-founders of the group. “While he was alive [Shultz died in 2005], he taught all over the country, including members of our group. He was a driving force and spirit,” notes Dickinson. She says she still treasures a definition of impressionism that he shared in class one day: “Impressionism is a wonderful way of creating a painting because it is the study of light on form with color. It is discovering the beauty beyond our physical eye and calling upon the inner eye, which in time reveals the soul and spirit of the subject through one’s own interpretation.”

No doubt Schultz would be pleased to know that the group, which held its first meeting a decade ago in Dickinson’s living room, has blossomed into a 550-member organization that includes some of the best-known impressionists in the country. For example, as current president Kathy Cooper points out, acclaimed artist Nancy Guzik was recently added to the roster of AIS master painters, an elite group of 11.

Artists in all three membership levels—master, signature, and associate—are united in their approach to depicting subjects by emphasizing light and color, often with broken brush strokes and impasto spots of color. “It’s representational but not tight. It’s what we call loose work,” Cooper explains.

“The show at Saks Galleries is an excellent opportunity to acquire new works from America’s finest established and up-and-coming impressionist painters,” she adds. “We anticipate collectors at every level to take advantage of this opportunity to enhance their collections.”

For artists, this year’s show features workshops by AIS master artists Carolyn Anderson and Scott L. Christensen. Christensen’s plein-air workshop takes place October 18-22, with the goal of creating a highly structured environment to achieve breakthroughs for workshop participants. There are outdoor painting sessions, critiques, and a study of the works of deceased masters. The five-day workshop is designed for artists who have made a serious commitment to artistic growth and are willing to engage in intensive study.

Anderson’s workshop, titled The Essence of Reality, is scheduled for October 21-23. Her sessions will emphasize expressive painting as well as learning how to see and interpret subject matter. The class is primarily for the intermediate to advanced painter, with discussions of the basics of composition, value, color, contrast, and rhythm. Live models are present for the studio sessions.

AIS master artist Quang Ho is this year’s awards judge. He conducts an oil painting demonstration on Saturday, October 24.

The AIS member’s show is on view at Saks Galleries from October 23 to December 1. For more information: 978.589.3830, 303.333.4144, or

Featured in October 2009