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A HAVEN FOR PAINTERS: The Art Colony at Old Lyme
January 10, 2004 through January 2, 2005

Griswold House

During the first quarter of the twentieth century, Old Lyme was the center of a leading Impressionist art colony. Artists from all across the country flocked to the area to paint this quintessential New England village’s lush landscapes. This exhibition uses paintings from the Hartford Steam Boiler Collection, new Museum acquisitions, rarely viewed works, photographs, and archival material to cover a variety of themes surrounding the artists of the colony and their subjects. It is the first exhibition to fully incorporate the Hartford Steam Boiler collection with the Museum’s other holdings.

The American Art Colony at Lyme

During the first quarter of the twentieth century, Old Lyme was the center of a leading Impressionist art colony. Based upon European precedents, artist colonies like the one at Lyme attracted painters with picturesque subject matter, inexpensive lodgings, and a lively esprit de corps. Artists from all across the country flocked to Old Lyme to paint the landscape and other subjects found in and around the region. Many became permanent members of the community, helping to foster an identity for the town as a haven for painters.

The heart of the Lyme Art Colony was the home of Florence Griswold who, for financial reasons, had turned her family estate into a boarding house. After the painter Henry Ward Ranger arrived here in 1899, the Griswold House became a center for artists. Seemingly overnight, barns and outbuildings were transformed into makeshift studios. Artists set up portable easels to paint en plein air in the gardens or along the tidal river that bordered the property. For the artists, Lyme was an American version of the art colonies they had experienced abroad as well as a retreat from the increased urbanization and industrialization of America’s cities. Working largely within the stylistic traditions of Tonalism and Impressionism, these artists created paintings that celebrated Lyme’s unique sense of place.

Du Mond
Frank Vincent DuMond (1865-1951)
Garden Path, 1897
Oil on canvas
Gift of the Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company

DuMond was not only a noted artist but also a charismatic teacher. He must have taught more than a thousand future artists in the course of a 50-year career. In the winters, he was a fixture at the Art Students League in New York, and his summer classes were at Old Lyme, Kent, Essex, and elsewhere. The garden path in this painting makes an abstract design of the path and grass. The path itself reveals the work of a gardener, as do the plantings at one edge. DuMond indicates, however, that "the wild" has intruded into this carefully cultivated landscape

Edward Simmons (1852-1931)
A July Afternoon, Lyme, 1906
Oil on mahogany panel
Gift of the Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company

Simmons was one of The Ten, a group of painters who seceded from the Society of American Artists in 1898 in order to exhibit their work more effectively. The group is linked with Impressionism because Hassam, Twachtman, Weir, and Metcalf were founders. Simmons, however, was a mural painter. He had been at the art colonies at Concarneau in Brittany and St. Ives in Cornwall. In 1906 he was briefly at Old Lyme, straight from a mural commission at the Minnesota capitol

Ellen Axson Wilson (1860-1914)
Side Porch, Griswold House, 1910
Oil on artist board
Given by Dorothy Dunn Griswold in memory of her husband, George Turnure Griswold

Ellen Axson Wilson, first wife of President Woodrow Wilson, spent the summers of 1905, 1908, 1909, 1910 and 1911 in Old Lyme with members of the art colony. Often accompanied by her teenage daughters and her husband, Ellen came to Lyme to resume her serious study of art that she had begun at the Art Students League in mid-1880s. The family usually stayed at the Griswold House. At the time she painted this view of its side porch in 1910, her husband was considering a run for governor of New Jersey. Within two years, he would be elected President. Ellen’s promising artistic career was cut short by her death in August 1914.

Life at the "Holy House"

The Griswold House was designated the "Holy House" by Childe Hassam as a humorous takeoff on the Holley House, a boarding house that catered to artists in Cos Cob. Nearly all the rooms in the Griswold mansion were converted into guest bedrooms, including the third floor attic, where bachelor artists stayed in a maze of small rooms lit only by dormer windows. During its heyday from 1900 to 1915, the house came alive with the vibrant personalities of the artists, Florence Griswold, her domestic staff, and the many dogs and cats that had free run of the place. The gracious hospitality of Miss Florence had, as one lodger put it, "all the charm of being a guest with all the freedom of being at home."

Henry Ward Ranger (1858-1916)
Autumn Landscape, 1897
Oil on board
Gift of The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company

During the 1890s Ranger increasingly turned his attention to portraying old trees and forest interiors, both in his native upstate New York and in Canada. A year after he painted Autumn Landscape, he began to explore the countryside around Southern Connecticut, painting in East Lyme initially and then discovering Florence Griswold’s boarding house in 1899.


In the 1880s, American painters began to produce paintings in which landscape forms are perceived through an overall tone of colored atmosphere or mist. Frequently, a single color, such as brown or blue, would dominate such compositions. During the late 1890s American art critics began to use the term ‘tonal’ with great frequency to describe these works. Two of the leading painters associated with this style are George Inness and the expatriate James McNeill Whistler. Inspired by their works as well as by the artists of the French Barbizon and Dutch Hague schools, a number of Lyme painters created evocative landscapes of mood and poetry.

Henry Ward Ranger, who founded the Lyme Art Colony in 1899, was perhaps the principal spokesman for a Tonalist point of view after 1900. He declared that, above all, tonality means "harmonious modulations of color." Under Ranger’s leadership, many of the first artists to arrive in Old Lyme painted in a Tonalist style. Although a significant body of tonal work was produced here and elsewhere, this work soon became eclipsed with the popularity of Impressionism and European modernism.

The word "Impressionism" originated at a Paris exhibition in 1874 as a derogatory term to describe works that appeared sketchy and unfinished. Working in a shorthand technique rather than a more finished approach, the French Impressionists used a limited range of bold colors to record their immediate impressions of the everyday world. Drawing upon 19th-century color theories, artists used contrasting colors for heightened effects. Outdoor or plein air painting is central to Impressionism, allowing artists to paint directly and spontaneously from nature.

William Chadwick (1879-1962)
Irises, n.d.
Oil on canvas
Gift of Elizabeth Chadwick O’Connell

William Chadwick first came to Old Lyme in 1902, while still a student. He was largely a figure painter at the time, strongly influenced by his instructor Joseph DeCamp, a leading artist of the Boston School. Through the influence of older artists such as Childe Hassam and Willard Metcalf, both of whom he encountered in Old Lyme, Chadwick began to experiment with landscape painting. Eventually, he developed a distinctive Impressionist style marked by a colorful palette, broad strokes of pigment, and compositions that favored diagonal formats, all of which can be seen in Irises. He gives us the kind of luxuriant garden bed that appears to grow naturally, a "cottage garden" style much in favor in turn-of-the-century America.


Charles Ebert (1873-1959)
Monhegan Headlands, 1909
Oil on canvas
Gift of Miss Elisabeth Ebert

Beginning in 1909, Charles Ebert and his wife, the watercolorist Mary Roberts Ebert, spent most of their summers on Monhegan, a remote island off the coast of Maine. Occasionally, they invited other Lyme painters to join them. The rocky seacoast, engulfed in mist and dotted with fishermen’s huts, especially suited Charles Ebert’s interest in capturing picturesque scenery with fleeting atmospheric conditions.
Monhegan Headlands was honored with a bronze medal at the 1910 Buenos Aires Exposition and a silver medal at the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition. Today, it is regarded as perhaps the artist’s best-known work.

Childe Hassam, along with a small group of other American artists, began to experiment with the stylistic characteristics of Impressionism in the late 1880s and early 1890s. By 1900, one critic claimed: "Childe Hassam is beyond any doubt the greatest exponent of Impressionism in America." Upon his arrival in Old Lyme in 1903, other members of the Colony, in particular the younger artists, were influenced to explore the use of high-key colors and open brushwork, two hallmarks of Impressionism, to render the local landscape with fleeting effects of light and atmosphere.

Visions of Home
One of the most popular subjects for the American Impressionists at Lyme were images of the home and garden. The profusion of color and texture found in the garden mirrored their artistic interest in rendering fleeting effects of light and shadow. Bright summer light, perhaps filtered through a tree canopy or an open doorway, enlivened their canvases. Several colony members who settled in the area created country homes and gardens that provided suitable subject matter right at hand. Their paintings often portrayed the home and garden with women or children at leisure, contributing to the colony’s reputation as an idyllic retreat.

William Chadwick (1979-1962)
On the Porch, 1908
Oil on canvas
Gift of Mrs. Elizabeth Chadwick O’Connell

The side porch of the Griswold House served as a refreshing dining area for the members of the art colony during warm weather. Shade by aged grapevines, the porch provided a cool place to enjoy the midday meal while providing views over the gardens. Employing a lush Impressionist palette, Chadwick conveys the serene setting of the Griswold estate. Pink hollyhocks can be seen at the left, and roses, day lilies, iris, and a perennial border can be seen in the distance. The hues in the background suggested the multitude of flowers found growing in Miss Florence’s "old-fashioned" gardens at the rear of the house. In the upper portions of the canvas, one can see the barns beyond where Hassam and the other artists worked out of informal studios.





Lucien Abrams (1870-1941)
The Orchard, 1916
Oil on canvas
Gift of Mrs. Lucien Abrams

Since his family had considerable means and after his graduation from Princeton, Lucien Abrams was able to live and travel in Europe from the time of his enrollment in the Académie Julian in 1894 until 1915. He was particularly active in French art circles, both exhibiting annually at the Salon des Indépendants and collecting the work of Auguste Renoir. Moving to Old Lyme in 1915, he and his new wife, the Parisian Charlotte Gina Onillon, purchased a summer residence overlooking the Long Island Sound. Abrams became an active member of the Lyme Art Association.

The Orchard is a view of the fruit orchard on the grounds of the Florence Griswold House. It is typical of Abrams’ lean but expressive palette that emphasized boldly applied shades of blue, green, red and white.

He once said he tried to limit himself to five colors.

The gardens and home of Florence Griswold provided ample subjects for the artists as well. Its ancient interior offered a memorable assortment of antiques and furnishings, where, as Miss Florence put it, "everything savors of the past." The surrounding grounds were equally inviting, with luxuriant gardens, orchards, and several outbuildings. Rendered from different perspectives, the Lyme Impressionists found in the gardens and homes of Old Lyme a place of serenity and continuity far removed from the complexities of modern urban life.