Inspiration and Impact:
The Legacy of the Hartford Steam Boiler Collection
February 12 through June 26, 2011
Celebrating Ten Years of the Hartford Steam Boiler Collection
Photos from the Members' Opening.
In 2001 The Florence Griswold Museum underwent a dramatic transformation when The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company entrusted its American paintings collection to the institution. The gift of 190 works of art encompasses American paintings, prints, and sculpture from the eighteenth to the twentieth century, with an emphasis on Connecticut’s artistic heritage. Inspiration and Impact pairs highlights from the original corporate collection with three dozen recent acquisitions that reflect the Museum’s expanded focus on American art. “The gift of the Hartford Steam Boiler Collection charted the course for the Museum’s growth from a respected house museum to a true American art destination,” states Jeffrey Andersen, Museum Director. “Over the past decade this collection has attracted thousands of visitors for a compelling experience that combines art, history, and landscape.”
A Museum Transformed
The Hartford Steam Boiler (HSB) Collection has always been highly regarded. At the time of the donation Elizabeth Broun, Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum noted, “It is truly one of America’s landmark collections, the kind that can put a museum on the map.” The Museum was chosen to receive the collection because of its commitment to promoting Connecticut’s artistic heritage. The Museum is on the site of what was a thriving boardinghouse for artists at the turn of the 20th century. Noted Impressionists such as Childe Hassam, Matilda Browne, and Willard Metcalf turned Florence Griswold’s stately house into the home of the Lyme Art Colony. Although the Museum had a substantial selection of Impressionist works, its collection was considerably strengthened by the arrival of the HSB gift. The Museum, for example, only owned a single canvas by one of the movement’s leaders, Childe Hassam. The HSB Collection contains seven major works by the artist, as well as significant paintings by other heralded Impressionists such as John Henry Twachtman, Theodore Robinson, and J. Alden Weir.
Just as significantly, with the arrival of the HSB Collection, the Museum broadened its scope. Paintings by leading portraitists of the early republic, such as Ralph Earl, and landscapes by Hudson River School artists Thomas Cole and his Hartford-born pupil Frederic Church, further illuminate Connecticut’s artistic heritage.
Ten Years Later
The comprehensive breadth of the HSB gift has guided the Museum’s choice of acquisitions over the past decade. Inspiration and Impact is divided into sections that juxtapose the recently acquired pieces with the works that influenced the decision to collect them. One section studies the Connecticut landscape, a major emphasis of the HSB Collection. Iconic depictions, such as Frederic Church’s The Charter Oak at Hartford and Willard Metcalf’s Dogwood Blossoms define the vision of Connecticut and New England. The recent acquisitions in this section include Tom Zetterstrom’s photo of an American Elm, which provides a contemporary counterpoint to Church’s Charter Oak, and Barbara Goodwin’s November Water, which echoes Metcalf’s sensitivity to the local environment in its depiction of the Eight Mile River. “These connections provide a broader context for the HSB works,” explains Amy Kurtz Lansing, Curator. “The pairings initiate new dialogues with favorites from the Collection.”
Another section examines how the Museum has built on the HSB Collection’s strengths in the works of particular artists. In one example, an early Hartford Steam Boiler portrait of a young girl by Ivan Olinsky is paired with a 1920s portrait of a humble farmer, revealing the artist’s activities in the later years of the Lyme Art Colony and his growing engagement with social themes. The Olinsky painting is displayed on the artist’s own studio easel, recently donated to the Museum.
Encouraged by the breadth of the HSB Collection, the Museum also has sought new directions in its acquisitions. Over the last ten years the Florence Griswold Museum has made great strides in collecting and exhibiting the work of women artists. HSB works by artists such as Matilda Browne, a key member of the Lyme Art Colony, have encouraged the acquisition of works by Connecticut women artists such as Elisabeth Gordon Chandler, the founder of the Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts. In just the last few years the Museum mounted four exhibitions devoted to women’s artistic production. The Hartford Steam Boiler gift played a significant part in the Museum collecting women artists and in stimulating its interest in women’s roles in the arts.
Just as the HSB gift expanded the Museum’s collecting to include American art from the colonial period to the early twentieth century, the Museum is now collecting art from the mid-to-late twentieth century. In the past decade modern works by Norman Ives, Sewell Sillman, and James Grünbaum have been acquired to begin to document the art of Connecticut during this time period. Several exhibitions in recent years solidified the Museum’s commitment to chronicling the achievements of these artists.
The exhibition is generously sponsored in part by The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company, Connecticut Humanities Council, and The Starr Foundation.
Harlan Page (1791–1834), Portrait of a Man, ca. 1815. Oil on canvas, 21 1/4 x 18 3/4 inches. Gift of The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company
Childe Hassam (1859–1935), Summer Evening, 1886. Oil on canvas, 12 1/8 x 20 3/8 inches. Gift of The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company
Frederic E. Church (1826–1900), The Charter Oak at Hartford, ca. 1846. Oil on canvas, 24 x 34 1/4 inches. Gift of The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company
om Zetterstrom (b. 1945), American Elm, Summer (Egremont, Massachusetts), 1993. Silver gelatin print on Fortezo warm tone fiber paper. Museum purchase with an anonymous gift
Ivan Olinsky (1878–1962), The Old Fashioned Gown, 1913. Oil on canvas, 60 x 30 inches. Gift of The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company
Norman Ives (1923–1978), Untitled, 1968. Acrylic on canvas, 24 x 24 inches. Gift of Charles T. Clark