Laura Albans, Curatorial Assistant for the departments of European Painting and Sculpture and Conservation
Leon Kroll’s Landscape – Two Rivers was first brought to my attention by my then-10-year-old son, who discovered it in a 2001 visit to the Museum. I clearly remember him standing in front of this majestic painting extolling its beauty. It was amazing to see my young child completely engaged in a work of art, absolutely mesmerized by its magnificence and unable to take his eyes off the canvas—just standing in front of it and saying, “Now that’s a beautiful painting.”
Ever since that experience, Landscape – Two Rivers has remained very special to me. So, when I started working at the BMA, and later assisted with the Cézanne and American Modernism exhibition (2010)—where Leon Kroll’s composition was to be included in the project—it all came full circle. I distinctly remember where the painting was installed in the exhibition—holding the wall ever so strongly among the French master’s stunning works. Seeing the painting through my son’s young eyes and mine, Landscape – Two Rivers continues to resonate with me.
With its motif, rich palette, complex, yet mindful, execution, and monumental scale, Kroll has unmistakably created a very Cézanne-inspired composition—another reason as to why my attention is drawn to the painting. Cézanne’s Mont Sainte-Victoire Seen from the Bibémus Quarry is one of my favorite paintings in the BMA’s collection, not only because it is the best example of this motif, but mostly because it reminds me of my beloved state’s highest mountain—Mount Katahdin—in Northern Maine. Although Cézanne’s inspiration can be seen in its execution, Kroll made the composition his own, as he later wrote, “If you copy directly, it’s kind of a swipe, you know. It doesn’t belong to you, it’s a secondhand thing.”
Kroll, born into a family of musicians, began studying painting at a young age at the Art Students League under John Henry Twachtman in New York. He later attended the National Academy of Design, where he was quite successful, having his first solo exhibition in 1906. In 1908, following in the footsteps of Baltimore artist Charles Walther, Kroll traveled to France to study at the Académie Julian under Jean-Paul Laurens. It was during this time in Paris that Kroll was introduced to the work of Paul Cézanne, after stumbling upon a gallery window displaying a group of the French master’s paintings. The American artist was completely inspired by Cézanne’s technique and color palette, which can be seen in his landscape paintings from his expeditions to Eddyville, New York, and Monhegan Island, Maine.
Upon returning to the States, Kroll exhibited his Paris paintings in the famed 1913 Armory Show, successfully selling all of his works. In the 1920s, he taught at the National Academy of Design, as well as the Maryland Institute College of Art, the Pennsylvania Academy Fine Arts, and the Art Institute of Chicago. The American modernist is mostly known for his figurative works, and was commissioned to paint murals for the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., Johns Hopkins University’s Shriver Hall in Baltimore, and a war memorial in Worcester, MA. Kroll had a successful career throughout his life.
The Cone sisters of Baltimore were not only patrons of Kroll, but had a close friendship with the artist and his wife. Between the two sisters, they collected one print, nine drawings, and three paintings by Kroll, including Landscape – Two Rivers. It should be noted that Claribel Cone purchased Cézanne’s Mont Sainte-Victoire, so one can easily see why Etta Cone would have purchased Landscape – Two Rivers.
BMA Voices is an insider’s exploration of The Baltimore Museum of Art collection through the eyes of its curators, conservators, and registrars. Featuring a new object every day during the BMA’s 100 Day Celebration, the project will highlight some favorite, amusing, unusual, and obscure objects.