E. J. Dressler 1859–1907

Untitled (The Thoughtful Fisherman)

, circa 1896–1901

Oil on canvas, 23¼ by 30½ inches


Its original title unknown, this painting by Edward James Dressler focuses on a fisherman who sits quietly in a modest rowboat as he awaits his catch. With a practical straw sunhat shielding his bearded face, the man props his chin in one hand in a gesture of patient idleness. His craft is anchored among the reeds in a narrow stream bound by a rustic fence at the upper left. The water’s placid surface reflects a high overcast sky that diffuses a cool silvery light over the verdant scene. The stream’s curving banks, the boat, an oar sloping into the water, and the fisherman’s slender pole form a series of contrasting diagonals that play off against the brushy softness of the trees and grasses filling out the idyllic country setting.

During Dressler’s brief career he was highly respected in Chicago as a painter of landscapes in watercolors as well as oils. His work was largely divided between scenes painted on the city’s agrarian outskirts and images of the more spectacular and varied landscapes of Northern California and the Southwest, to which he made several excursions. “A potent charm of his performances is the fact that he rarely vexes by the introduction of figures into his compositions,” according to one reviewer.i This painting is perhaps exceptional in its focus on a figure, yet it is characteristic of Dressler’s work in its cool hues and evocation of saturated atmosphere. When painting near Chicago, another reviewer noted, the artist “awaits the time when soft, friendly clouds obscure the sun, and tells with a vibrating voice of things which to some induce a feeling of gentle melancholy. . . . He delights in moist green meadows, low, flat stretches of prairie, basined with shallow pools wrapt in mysterious silence.”ii These preferences reflected Dressler’s embrace of a current trend in American art in the late 1890s, when many American painters working in northern France and Holland sought to capture the region’s peculiar color and light. Dressler himself never visited Europe, but he would have seen the results in the work of such Chicago contemporaries as Pauline Dohn (Rudolph) and Charles Corwin, among others.

Wendy Greenhouse, PhD

i “Art,” Chicago Tribune, May 23, 1897; see also “Art,” Chicago Times-Herald, Mar. 19, 1899.
ii Untitled clipping, Chicago Times-Herald, Apr.10, 1898, in AIC Scrapbooks, vol. 9, 154.

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