This semester, I have been working as a curatorial intern at KAM. My supervisor for this research, Maureen Warren, asked me to summarize research on file for several paintings on view in the Bow Gallery. I also looked for new research to add to the museum’s object files.
Most of the time, I had access to a lot amount of information to help write me about each painting, whether it was in object files or scholarly articles I found through the library databases. With Winter Stream, however, all I had to go on was the name of the artist and a descriptive title.
I had no luck finding information about the specific painting in KAM’s possession, so I opted to learn more about the artist herself, Emily Groom. Unfortunately, with lesser known artists it is far more difficult to find scholarship about their personal lives and artistic development.
Luckily, thanks to Groom’s dedicated family members, there is both an extensive biography of her life as well as an online gallery that contains the majority of her completed works. I was fortunate enough to find these resources after a bit of digging, and hoped to learn enough about Groom’s artistic practice to determine an approximate date for KAM’s painting and find other relevant information that could be added the object file and gallery label.
To determine when a work of art was created, art historians start with the medium, style, and subject material. Winter Stream is a landscape painting done in an impressionistic style. The paint application is heavy, texturized, and left thick, visible brush strokes.
Groom portrayed a relatively ordinary scene of the countryside covered in snow, elevated by her masterful capturing of reflections and shadows. Keeping these factors in mind, I focused on Emily’s travels and cross-referenced other paintings and drawings to help narrow down my own search for similar works.
As a Wisconsin native, many of Emily’s works were plein air depictions of the rural countryside. She said: “It is so much easier to be yourself when you do [paint] your own country.” Given that information, I suspected this painting captured the scenery of Wisconsin.
Determining an approximate date was more difficult. It was clear to me that this oil painting was probably made early in Emily’s career because later on she preferred to use watercolors. But I needed more information to determine the approximate age of the painting, so I decided to be a bit more proactive in my search.
Given their devotion to Emily’s life and her body of work, I suspected that the best source for additional information might be Emily’s relatives. Through some clever googling, I found the contact information of one of her family members and reached out to her to see if she could help me learn more.
I was delighted that she was willing to help me in my search, and she gave me a vital clue to understanding the context of KAM’s painting. She shared an image of an extremely similar painting that Emily made in 1919 of Crooked Creek in Boscobel, Wisconsin. In that painting, the way the river winds through the snowy landscape, the capturing of reflections and shadows, and the application of paint were all very reminiscent of KAM’s painting.
I have no doubt that Winter Stream portrays the same location, and given what I learned about the development of Emily’s style and early use of oil paint, I am confident that KAM’s painting was completed around the same time—possibly even the same year. As a result of my research, it can be safely assumed that for Winter Stream Groom was inspired by her native landscape--Crooked Creek in Boscobel, Wisconsin--and that she completed the painting circa 1919-1925.
Researching Winter Stream required an entirely different process than the other paintings I worked on this semester, which already had more information in their object files. It was a challenge to have only the artist’s name and a descriptive title.
Even though there were several times I felt like I had hit a dead end, being persistent in trying to learn more about this painting absolutely paid off in the end. I am happy to have provided this stunning work a more detailed description and I enjoyed getting a better idea about how curatorial research works, and not only for paintings by European Old Masters but also great artists in the American Midwest.
Author: Sophia Mendicino, Undergraduate Curatorial Intern (BFA '20 Graphic Design); with research supervision by Maureen Warren, Curator of European and American Art, 2020.