Marking springtime with William Singer

By Daniel Fulco, Ph.D., Agnita M. Stine Schreiber Curator

To mark the opening of the special exhibition Landscapes & Legends of Norway: William Singer & His Contemporaries (on view through Sept. 17,2023), we hope that you enjoy this pastel drawing in our collection. If you visit the museum, this work is on view in the Baer Gallery.


William Henry Singer, Jr. (American, 1868–1943)
Springtime in Norway, ca. 1920s
Pastel on paper
21.25″h x 17.563″w
Collection of Washington County Museum of Fine Arts
Gift of Mrs. Wilber A. Marr, A1717 72.203

In this tranquil landscape, Singer transports the viewer to the serene, relaxed environment near Olden, a village nestled in the western Norwegian countryside and a place treasured by the artist and his wife, Anna Brugh Singer (founders of the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts in 1928). William’s pastels are often similar to his oil paintings; both glorify the Land of the Midnight Sun with its sparkling glaciers, expansive valleys, and soaring peaks. Drawn with spare, graceful strokes and careful applications of color, Singer incorporated the tan background of the paper into the composition and employed a harmonious palette of green, orange, and light brown. By using these colors, the artist suggested that this is early spring, for the vegetation is continuing to grow. Note Singer’s use of one of his favorite recurring motifs: a lone, large tree that anchors the left side of the composition.

A willing expatriate, William, Jr., was born in Pittsburgh to William H. Singer, Sr., who was a steel magnate. The younger William tried his hand at the family business but finally convinced his father that painting was his true vocation. Soon after his marriage in 1895 to Anna Brugh of Hagerstown, the two spent time on Monhegan Island, Maine, where he first expressed his devotion to the landscape as a subject. He then studied briefly under renowned painter Jean-Paul Laurens (1838–1921) at the Académie Julian, Paris, where students had the opportunity to draw and paint from live models and receive instruction from renowned painters. He left before long, however, realizing that the academies at the time did not teach landscape painting. He and Anna moved to Laren, The Netherlands, attracted by a group of artists informally known as the “Laren School,” the members of which used soft brushwork to paint intimate landscapes. In addition to being influenced by trends in French Impressionism and the Laren School, William responded to the work of the American Impressionists, some of whom he spent time with in the summer and autumn of 1907 at the Old Lyme art colony (Connecticut), most notably Willard Metcalf (1858–1925), Childe Hassam (1859–1935), and Walter Griffin (1861–1935).

Having received $4,000,000 from his father in 1907, Singer was able to enjoy a life of comfort, pursuing what he loved best and to support Anna in her passion for art collecting. On an initial trip to Norway in 1903, William discovered that the mountainous landscape captivated him. Throughout his career, he captured the spirit and magnificence of this country’s natural beauty, and cherished all that it offered.
This WeekendArt is sponsored by Mr. & Mrs. Paul C. Mellott, Jr.