By Alexandra A. Jopp
Anthony Thieme was one of America’s most successful painters, with a long and prolific career that spanned the first half of the twentieth century. His story is a splendid illustration of the United States as the “land of opportunity.” While growing up in The Netherlands, he showed artistic leanings and a love of color. His passion, however, was not supported by his parents. They did not think art was a serious career choice, and they sent their son off to naval school. That did not last long, though, and as soon as he turned 14, Thieme enrolled in Holland’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts. Afterward, he studied for two years at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague. Yet even after this training, Thieme still could not convince his parents to support his desire to become an artist. So, at the age of 17, he left home. After several years traveling around Europe, Thieme, barely able to make ends meet, crossed the Atlantic, a trip that would lead to him becoming one of the most distinguished painters in the history of American art.
Born Antonius Johannes Thieme in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, in 1888, the artist is much more remembered in the United States than in his native country. His reputation as a leading landscape and marine painter and as a premier figure of the Rockport School has lasted to this day.
Thieme’s career began in Germany, where he was employed as a stage designer while he developed his painting skills. After three years, he traveled to Switzerland, then Italy, where he worked as a stage designer in Turin. In 1909, he enrolled in the Scuola di Belle Arti, where he studied for a year before moving on to Naples. He spent two years sketching and painting in Naples, then traveled to London before taking the proceeds from the sale of some of his sketches and booking passage to New York.
Thieme settled in New York City in 1917 and began painting Broadway backdrops. Though the pay was good, the work was unfulfilling for the young and ambitious artist. He soon moved to Boston, where he kept a studio in Copley Square in which he produced easel paintings and illustrations.
In 1929, Thieme married Lillian Beckett and bought a cottage in Rockport, Mass. He set up a studio in the area, which had become a summer resort destination for nationally-known artists. According to a 1961 account by John Kieran, “There are studios on almost every street, and every day in summer you see outdoor groups of pupils working under different masters at picturesque points along the roadside.” 1 Thieme opened the Thieme Summer School of Art in Rockport in 1929 and served as its director until 1943.
Thieme’s favorite subjects were the historic fishing ports on the north shore of Massachusetts. His admiration for the gleaming colors and the lyric quality of the marine subjects dominated his style. “The open air is my studio,” Thieme said. “A good landscape painter must paint fast to catch the light of any hour. Unless you know what to put in, what to leave out, the result is a mess.”
Thieme died in 1954 in Greenwich, Conn.
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