“Art Colonies in America: The American Impressionists”is an enervated and frequently incompetent documentary traces the history of Impressionism within America by focusing on four artists colonies which enjoyed popularity in the late 19th and early 20th century: Cos Cob and Old Lyme in Connecticut, Shinnecock on Long Island, NY, and Laguna Beach in California.
However, a gathering of artists is not synonymous with a gathering of greatness and many of the paintings presented here are woefully inferior to the masterworks of Impressionist painting that dominated European art. Even if the artwork in question was monumental, the viewer has little opportunity to savor its brilliance because filmmaker Albert J. Kallis only offers too-quick glimpses of the paintings. Rather than allow the viewer to stop and contemplate the paintings, he offers a now-you-see-it/now-you-don’t slide-show approach. It’s art for the ADD set.
It also doesn’t help that the paintings are only identified by artist and not by title or year of completion. It is impossible to trace the progress of American Impressionism if one cannot determine chronology of creation.
The research here is also wobbly. The film begins with a thumbnail history of how Impressionism took root in Paris. But the thumbnail is too small to mention American artist Mary Cassatt’s role as the sole American in the development of the Impressionist movement. There is, however, too much mention of William Merritt Chase, whose work does not fit this school – even the narration concedes he’s “not an orthodox Impressionist.”
Adding further insult to injury is having a series of curators and art scholars talk up the subject by looking directly into the camera and delivering their lines in flat monotones (if you bother to pay close attention, you can see their eyes scanning line to line on the cue cards they are reading from).
Documentaries rarely get worse than this. Save your money and expand your knowledge by avoiding “Art Colonies in America: The American Impressionists” and visiting a real art museum instead.