Unfortunately few details are known about the early life of Elmer Livingston MacRae. He was born in New York City on July 16, 1875. He attended the Art Students League in New York where he studied under John Henry Twachtman, Carroll Beckwith, Robert Blum, and H. Siddons Mowbray. At this time the League was a membership organization for young artists in New York City. Many of these students visited the Holley House in Cos Cob, Connecticut to continue their studies in outdoor landscape painting under John Twachtman and J. Alden Weir, who taught summer classes there. MacRae himself is known to have spent two summers at the school in the 1890's. In 1896 MacRae settled in the village of Cos Cob. At the boardinghouse of Edward and Josephine Holley which had become the unofficial headquarters for the Cos Cob Art Colony MacRae met Emma Constant Holley, the daughter of the owners of the Holley House. In 1900 Elmer Livingston MacRae married Emma and settled permanently in the house that he had come to love. For the next two decades Elmer and Emma together ran the boardinghouse. The historical charm and beauty of the structure attracted many young artists who utilized it as a meeting place. Soon the house became a backdrop for artists such as Childe Hassam, John Henry Twachtman, Theodore Robinson, and Elmer Livingston MacRae. The "Cos Cob Clapboard School of Art," as designated by Hassam, used both the interior and exterior of the house as inspiration for their paintings. While living at the Holley House MacRae became involved in a number of art organizations. He was one of the founders and the first Secretary-Treasurer of the American Pastel Society. He was a charter member of the Greenwich Society of Artists and served on their council. Most importantly he was a founding member of the Association of American Painters and Sculptors which organized the famed Armory Show of 1913, an International Exhibition of Modern Art at New York City's 69th Street Armory. The Exhibition showcased the art of such European artists as Paul Cezanne and Marcel Duchamp which was a radical departure from the previously known Realist and Impressionist work. MacRae served on a number of committees that organized this ground-breaking exhibition that would change the face of American art. Without MacRae's tireless work the show could conceivably not been the ultimate success that it was. MacRae exhibited ten of his own works at the Armory Show. MacRae remained at the Holley House until his death in 1953. Emma continued to live in the house until her own death in 1957 when the Holley House was sold to the Greenwich Historical Society.
Elmer Livingston MacRae painted Knoll with a Haycock just two years before the landmark International Exhibition of Modern Art held at the 69th Street Armory in New York City in 1913. This exhibition also known as the Armory Show of 1913 showcased the art work of such modern European masters of the time as Paul Cezanne and Marcel Duchamp. Knoll with a Haycock displays MacRae's thorough understanding of Impressionist theories, as he has successfully drawn upon imagery immortalized by Claude Monet, the soft color palette of John Henry Twachtman, and the delicate strokes of Childe Hassam. MacRae was known to have worked alongside Hassam Twachtman, who taught outdoor landscape painting at the Bush-Holley House, the unofficial headquarters for the Cos Cob Art Colony, both often rendering the same scene. MacRae's predilection for painting en plein air or in the open air still remains in this painting that is full of natural light and gentle atmospheric effects with their shifting transient qualities This new color palette represents a further step into Impressionism from MacRae's formerly solid style of painting. The slightly flattened perspective is also suggestive of a concurrent movement towards a more modernist approach on the part of MacRae, who was enthralled with Japanese art and woodcuts. This painting was discovered at the Bush-Holley House in a closet on the upper level of the barn by a Board member of the Historical Society in the early 1960's. It was then purchased from the above mentioned Board member by the previous owner.
Bush Holly House, Greenwich Historical Society, Greenwich, CT.
Greenwich Gallery, Greenwich, Connecticut
Private Collection, New Canaan, Connecticut
"Exhibition of Oils, Pastels, Woodcarvings by Elmer Livingston MacRae" Presented by The Historical Society of the Town of Greenwich, CT. Lever House, 390 Park Avenue, New York. Jan. 15 - Jan 28, 1960's, #54