I saw a charming house that appeared like a Roman temple among the trees. Admiringly, I beheld the broad steps surmounted by four huge ionic columns that towered to the roof and formed a magnificent adornment to the mansion's front, the handsome old doorway of which stood hospitably open.
What is known today as the Florence Griswold Museum has, for more than a century, been an open house -- to fresh ways of seeing, open to artists, to new forms of art. At the heart of this historic site is the Griswold House. More than a magnificent example of architecture, this building tells stories. Its walls hold the saga of a family's financial rise and fall, a village's evolution, and the tale of how the serendipitous meeting of a prominent painter and a kindhearted landlady started a new chapter in American art history.
The House is a National Historic Landmark. Designed by Samuel Belcher, architect of the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme, and built for William Noyes in 1817, the Late Georgian-style mansion reflects the affluent, formal style of living during Old Lyme's maritime era. The period rooms rekindle the spirit of another life and time.
A Time of Prosperity and Sophistication
Arriving in the front hall, visitors see antique furnishings and paintings displayed as a gallery, as it was used by Florence Griswold during the Lyme Art Colony years. The front parlor is furnished to reflect the second quarter of the 19th century, when the house was purchased by the young sea captain Robert Griswold. It was a time of prosperity and sophistication in Old Lyme and similar shipbuilding coastal towns. Adjacent to the parlor is the room that Miss Florence converted into her bedroom during the Art Colony years. It is furnished with many of her personal items and tells the story of her family's financial decline, the years she ran a home school with her mother and sisters, and her decision to open her home to boarders.
The Lyme Art Colony
More than a remarkable building, the Griswold House occupies a unique place in the history of American art. It brings alive the work of American Impressionist artists in the place where they lived and painted. This accredited Museum is as alive today as it was when the artists, with irreverent good humor, dubbed it the "Holy House."
The artists left Miss Florence, and generations of art lovers, something very special. Many painted directly on the walls and doors of the Griswold House. The tradition was probably imported from hostelries in the French art colonies of Barbizon, Giverny, and Pont-Aven. Forty-one such panels appear throughout the downstairs rooms. The most breathtaking example is found in the dining room. Here is one of the most complete chronicles of the art colony movement in America.
The second floor of the Griswold House is exhibition space. Currently, The American Art Colony at Lyme, explores the legacy of the artists of the Lyme Art colony. Paintings, sketches, and photographs detail the importance of the Colony in the history of American Art. Many of the works on view are new acquisitions.
House Restoration Project
The Griswold House reopened July 1, after 14 months of extensive restoration and refurnishing. The House now presents an innovative interpretation of its former role as a boardinghouse for the Lyme Art Colony. The entire first floor is furnished accurately to its appearance circa 1910, the height of its usage as a boarding house for artists. The interior of the house at this time was redolent of old New England where, as Miss Florence put it, "everything savors of the past." Entering the wide center hall, visitors see an informal gallery of paintings hung on grass cloth walls. Examples of Colonial and Empire furniture fill the hall. Off the hallway are two bedrooms -- Miss Florence's own bedroom and a guest bedroom furnished with antiques and items reminiscent of the Griswold family's illustrious seafaring past. A parlor, complete with artists' brushes on the mantel, comes alive with the various entertainment that the artists presented for each other and for friends. The famed dining room recalls evenings when Woodrow Wilson and his family dined with Miss Florence and the artists. (Read more about the relationship on the Museum's online learning guide, Woodrow and Ellen Axson Wilson in Old Lyme
.) The second floor holds the exhibition, An American Place: The Art Colony at Old Lyme
, which features many of the leading artists of the Colony - Henry Ward Ranger, Childe Hassam, and Willard Metcalf - who were in the vanguard of the Tonalist and Impressionist movements.
Details and photos of the Florence Griswold House Restoration Project.