Landscape and genre imagery combine in Oliver Dennett Grover’s scene of a uniformed maid preparing an alfresco breakfast before a vista of the Italian countryside. The cloth-draped table is laid for one and bears a tall vase of roses, while on the far right a stand holds a bottle of wine. Behind the pretty young servant, a wrought-iron railing marks the edge of the terrace overlooking the landscape, in which dense greenery gives way to a cluster of stucco houses with tiled roofs set against a steep hillside.
This work testifies to the direction in which Grover’s painting evolved in the two decades after he produced Thy Will Be Done. In contrast to the latter’s highly finished surface, nearly monochromatic palette, and moralizing overtone, this painting’s rapid, evident brushstrokes and fresh color are typical of American impressionist painting of the early twentieth century. The theme of the alfresco meal was particularly popular among Grover’s American contemporaries, particularly such fellow Chicagoans as Pauline Palmer and Karl Buehr working in the art colony in Giverny, France, in the years just before World War I. In their paintings of figures out-of-doors, such American impressionists typically posed family members and hired models dressed as women of leisure. Grover’s Breakfast on the Terrace, however, pictures a servant, her severe black-and-white uniform and studious attention to her task contrasting with the colorful landscape behind her.
Italy assumed an important role in Grover’s art beginning with his initial visit to Venice and Florence in 1880 as one of the “Duveneck Boys,” a group of Americans studying under Kentucky-born artist Frank Duveneck. Grover’s first solo exhibition, at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1904, consisted of paintings of Venice. Florence was his home for much of the period 1881–1883 and he returned there frequently until the outbreak of World War I. Works painted during his stay in Florence in 1912 were featured that December in Grover’s second Art Institute solo show. In 1913, the year he painted this work, the artist visited Venice as well as Florence. Grover typically painted Italy in landscapes, marines, and city views in which figures are relatively insignificant; Breakfast on the Terrace, however, captures everyday life as experienced by a prosperous resident of or visitor to Italy—like the artist himself.
Wendy Greenhouse, PhD