Friday, April 29, 2011

John Leslie Breck, Impressionist Painter

Born in 1860 at sea on a clipper ship in the South Pacific, John Leslie Breck, son of a U.S. Navy Captain, was raised in the Boston area and attended Dummer Academy as a child. The Governor’s Academy archival records reveal that Breck was a student at the academy during the years 1868 and 1869. According to the academy’s records, Breck resided in Newton Lower Falls, a village of Newton, Massachusetts, through at least 1871. He would subsequently study in Munich, Germany, and in 1886, at the Academie Julian in Paris, France (1886).

One of the artists to settle in the famous impressionist art colony of Giverny, Breck would become one of the few Americans to enter the inner circle of Claude Monet. It has been reported that he was once viewed as Monet’s most promising artistic heir among Americans. The website of the City of Newton ( provides information about John Leslie Breck's life, and includes the following picture of Breck (seated) with Claude Monet's wife and stepdaughters, Monet himself (center, standing), Monet's son Jean, and Henry Fitch Taylor, another American painter.

In 1888, Breck began to paint by moonlight, a technique that he would later employ on canvases such as Santa Maria della Salute by Moonlight (see below).

After a failed romance with Monet’s stepdaughter, Blanche Hoschede-Monet, he returned to Boston in 1890 and continued to paint in the avant-garde style. Many of Breck’s canvases were created after his return from France, with several featuring scenes along the Massachusetts coast. Flower Garden at Annisquam (see below), painted in 1892, sold through Christie’s for $270,000 in 2000.

Breck’s U.S.-based works are some of the earliest fully realized impressionistic painting in this country. His many works include the following:

The River Epte, Giverny, 1887

Les Coquelicots, 1890

Grainstack, Giverny, 1891

Early Snow, 1894

Ipswich, 1894

New England Village, circa 1895

Guidecca Canal, Venice, 1897

Landscape, 1899

Breck’s well-known series of 15 paintings—Studies of an Autumn Day—feature hay mounds, farm buildings, a ridge, and trees as anchors while their colors, textures, and shadows, which are captured at various times during one day, evolve with the movement of the sun and changing atmospheric conditions. Canvases from this collection appear below.

The artist’s brother, Edward, penned the following poem in tribute to the content of the serial works:

“The Day”

By Edward Breck

She sleeps.

Soft pillowed on fair cloudland’s purple bank.

Sweet Nature sleeps, still guarded by the night,

And dreams, love-drunken, of her Lord, the Sun.

But see! She wakes! And waking thinks of him!

Across her limpid cheek warm blushes flame,

And all her form thrills with expectant joy!

And lo! From o’er the hills and purple fields

Behold the Lord of Day in splendor rise,

Flash far on high his blinding bolts of light,

And tip the harvest peaks with dazzling fire!

But ‘this not meet roe impious mortal’s gaze

To view the rapture of that first embrace,

When Nature’s form he clasps with ardent arms.

From fleeting night he tears the lustrous veil

To deck the blushes of his beauteous bride.

Once more he sweeps from earth the fairy film

And shoots his rays athwart the dew-decked field,

Turning each drop into a flashing gem!

With ruby, pearl and emerald bedight

Fair Nature wanders through the golden day,

Her lovely face turned upward to her Lord,

And smiling back his smile, until on high

He turns his chariot round the top of Heaven

And downward gallops toward the earth again.

At his return she laughs and clasps her hands!

She drinks the perfume of the oderous earth,

The melodies of sylvan symphonies.

The field, abashed at such magnificence,

And feeling with the lover’s instinct sure

The coming of the evening, blushes red,

With all his pulses swelling at the thought!

But see! The dusky maid, of waiting weary,

With lovely, slender arms outstretched,

Alas, how art thou tricked! Those arms are more

Than cooling—they are cold! Thy blushes die.

Thy thrill turns to a shudder as the eve,

Her lips on thine, locks thee in her embrace!

The jilted sunshine, laughing from the hills,

At thy poor plight, is off, the wanton wench,

To woo the cloudlets in the western sky.

Despair not yet, for the darkling vale

Uprises in transcendent loveliness

The Queen of Night, before whose majesty

In terror shrinks thy gloomy torturer.

Singing the sweet, yet unheard song of silence,

She hangs aloft her robe of blue and silver;

And Nature, hearing, seeing, sinks to rest,

O’ercome by beauty’s soothing anodyne.

She sleeps!

John Leslie Breck’s premature death came at the age of 39 in 1899.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Dummer Academy Alumni Involvement in the American Civil War, 1861-1865

Information held in The Governor’s Academy’s Archives reveals that at least five alumni of the academy—then named Dummer Academy—fought in the American Civil War. All five men were Union Army officers, two of whom reached the level of Brigadier General, during the 1861-1865 war. One Dummer Academy alumnus was an aide to Major General George B. McClellan, while another ultimately served as private secretary to Andrew Johnson, who assumed the United States Presidency after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865.

Of the five Dummer Academy alumni to fight in the Civil War, two died in battle and one died from complications of pneumonia while active in service. Arranged chronologically by year of Dummer Academy graduation, the men are as follows:

Frederick West Lander (see below), Brigadier General of Volunteers, Union Army, and Aide to General McClellan. Originally from Salem, Massachusetts, Lander graduated from Dummer Academy in 1838, and subsequently studied at Norwich Military Academy. Lander was also a transcontinental United States explorer and poet. In the former capacity, he was commissioned by the U.S. government to survey for a route for a Pacific railroad. He constructed the overland wagon route (“Lander Road”), a popular route between the Wyoming and Oregon Territories. During the American Civil War, he published a popular poem on the Battle of Ball’s Bluff, as well as other nationally recognized patriotic poems. Lander died of complications from pneumonia in February of 1862.

Reuben Delevan Mussey, Brigadier General, US Volunteers, and Private Secretary to President Andrew Johnson. “R.D.” Mussey graduated from Dummer Academy in 1846. He received a college degree in 1854 from Dartmouth College, where his father—also Reuben Mussey—was a professor in Dartmouth’s medical school and the fourth president of the American Medical Association. Mussey had campaigned for Abraham Lincoln in 1860. When the war started, he was appointed from Ohio to the regular army, assigned to the 19th U.S. Infantry as a captain in May of 1861. The 19th ultimately joined the Army of the Ohio and later the Army of the Cumberland. According to the Certificate of Records of Soldiers and Sailors Historical and Benevolent Society No. 180017, Mussey was said to have been the first regular army officer to see permission to raise Negro troops. In September 1863, he was sent to Nashville, Tennessee, to help organize Negro troops. He was made Colonel of the 100th U.S. Colored Infantry in June of 1864. Mussey was brevetted Brigadier General of U.S. Volunteers in 1865 for his recruitment and organization of Negro troops. Subsequently, he served as Andrew Johnson’s confidential secretary from when Johnson took office following Lincoln’s assassination until November 1865. Mussey then served as an adjunct instructor at Howard Law School. He established law office in Washington, DC, and involved his wife, Ellen Spencer Mussey, who became a social reformer, supporter of the women’s suffrage movement, lawyer, and founder of Washington College of Law.

Malcom W. Tewksbury, Company C, 104th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, enlisted as a 1st Lieutenant, Union. Originally from Chester, NH, Tewksbury graduated from Dummer Academy in 1854, and from Dartmouth College in 1858.

Goodwin A. Stone (see below), Captain 2d Cavalry, Company K. An 1856 graduate of Dummer Academy and an 1862 graduate of Harvard University, Stone was mortally wounded at the Battle of Aldie, part of the Gettysburg Campaign. He hailed from Newburyport, Massachusetts.

George P. Sylvester, 3rd Sergeant (non-commissioned officer), Ninth Regiment New Hampshire Volunteers. Originally from West Newbury, Massachusetts, Sylvester graduated from Dummer Academy in 1858. The Union officer was also mortally wounded in battle.