Robinson was instrumental in bringing new styles of painting from the old world to help the new world look at its past. Trained at the National Academy of Design in New York City (1874) and by Émile Carolus-Duran and Jean Léon Gérôme at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris (1876–77), the Vermont-born artist at first seemed destined for a career as a traditional academic painter. This tidy trajectory was altered in 1887, however, when Robinson began to travel about the French countryside and discovered the artist colonies at Barbizon and Giverny. Although Robinson moved to Giverny in 1888 and became a disciple of Claude Monet, the leading French impressionist, he maintained his interest in the human form and his figural landscapes owe much to Barbizon-school painters such as Jean François Millet.
Robinson brought this hybrid style back to New York City in 1892. Subsequent artistic travels tools him to his native Vermont, as well as to Boston and to popular watering holes such as Greenwich and Cos Cob, Connecticut. With the narrative emphasis of an academician, Barbizon concern for rugged simplicity, and the bold brushwork and lighter palette of an impressionist, Robinson met with critical and commercial success in his homeland and abroad before his untimely death in 1896.
William H. Truettner and Roger B. Stein, editors, with contributions by Dona Brown, Thomas Andrew Denenberg, Judith K. Maxwell, Stephen Nissenbaum, Bruce Robertson, Roger B. Stein, and William H. Truettner Picturing Old New England: Image and Memory (Washington, D.C.; New Haven, Conn; and London: National Museum of American Art with Yale University Press, 1999)
Theodore Robinson studied art in Chicago and moved to New York City after he had earned enough money “doing crayon portraits and enlarging photographs.” He won a medal for life drawing at the National Academy of Design, and his confidence led him to continue his studies in Paris, where he made sketches in the Louvre and trained with noted French painters. Some years later, Robinson met Claude Monet at his home in Giverny. He described Monet as “the most aggressive, forceful painter. The one whose work is influencing this epoch the most.” Monet encouraged his friend to experiment with impressionism, and Robinson was one of the first artists to bring this radical new style of painting back to the United States. Once settled in New York, Robinson taught, experimented with photography, and wrote critical essays when he was not painting (Mayer, First Exposure: The Sketchbooks and Photographs of Theodore Robinson, 2000).