Leonard Ochtman

(1854-1934)

Leonard Ochtman was born in the small town of Zonnemaire, Holland. Following his mother’s death in 1866, he came to America with his father and three siblings. The family settled in Albany, New York, where he received training in painting from his father who was active as a painter in the city. He also worked for a period as a draftsman in Hiram Ferguson’s local wood-engraving firm. In the winter of 1879, Ochtman moved to New York and studied briefly at the Art Students League. It was there that his interest in landscape painting evolved. By June of 1880 he was back in Albany, where for several years he taught drawing and painting, and occasionally found work as a magazine illustrator.

Ochtman returned to New York in 1885. The following year he traveled to Paris and throughout Holland. In his native country he became familiar with the work of the Hague School. Back in New York in the fall of 1886 he took quarters at the Holbein studio building on West 55th Street, and became closely associated with George Inness, Bruce Crane, and J. Francis Murphy. Inness was a major admirer of Ochtman’s work and predicted his success. Ochtman would come to develop a style known today as Tonalism, a mode of painting in which hues and values are adjusted to a single dominating tone, all parts of the composition are interdependent, and the overall effect is rich, glowing, and harmonious. Like fellow Tonalists, Murphy and Crane, he favored the misty light of dawn or dusk, which blurred the outline of forms.

Beginning in 1890, Octhman began to spend summers in Cos Cob, Connecticut, and the following year purchased a home there. In 1896 he would purchase sixteen acres on the west bank of the Mianus River and build a new and larger home, which he called “Grayledge.” The artist would continue to paint in Cos Cob almost exclusively until his death in 1934. There he was a founding member of the Greenwich Society of Artists and served as the organization’s president from 1916 to 1932. Ochtman would also continue to be active in the New York art world as a member of the National Academy of Design, the National Arts Club, the American Watercolor Society, and the Lotus Club. He exhibited widely throughout the United States, had many one-person shows, and received numerous awards.

Ochtman’'s winter paintings were likely inspired by the work of John H. Twachtman, and such other leading turn-of-the-century American painters of the winter landscape as Birge Harrison, Willard Metcalf and Walter Launt Palmer. Paintings of the American winter flourished during the early decades of the twentieth century. Native artists recognized the rare beauty of America's dormant landscape under a heavy snow fall. Harrison remarked that snow in America is a "special feast for the eyes and spirit . . . . It is the snow which gives to our winter landscape its greatest beauty" (Birge Harrison, "The Appeal of the Winter Landscape," Fine Art Journal 30 [March 1914] 196).