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A Matter of Style: The Influence of French Art on the Old Lyme Art Colony
October 9, 2004 - April 17, 2005
(above: Willard Metcalf (American, 1858-1925), Dogwood Blossoms, 1906, oil on canvas; 29 x 26 inches, Florence Griswold Museum. Gift of The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company, 2002.1.92)
By the late 19th century
many American artists were travelling to France to hone their craft, enjoy
the company of like-minded individuals, and capture on canvas an impressive
variety of subjects. Upon returning home, these artists were eager to replicate
their experience, often incorporating the techniques they picked up abroad
into their portrayals of American subjects. A Matter of Style: The Influence
of French Art on the Old Lyme Art Colony, examines which characteristics
of the French Barbizon and Impressionist styles were absorbed by the American
artists of the Lyme Art Colony
and where they diverged from the French. The exhibition, on view at the
Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, Connecticut from October 9, 2004 through
April 17, 2005, compares the works of French masters such as Jean-Baptiste-Camille
Corot, Camille Pissarro, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Claude Monet from private
collections with complementary works from the Museum's American art collection.
(right: Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (French, 1796-1875), Souvenir
des environs de Saint-Omer (Souvenir of the Area Around Saint-Omer),
1869, oil on canvas; 23 x 32 inches, Collection of Rhoda and David Chase)
More than a third of the 32 paintings in A Matter of Style were selected from private collections, many rarely seen by the public. Artists represented in the Barbizon section of the exhibition include Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Charles-Francois Daubigny, Henry Ward Ranger, Louis Paul Dessar, Bruce Crane, and Clark Voorhees. Artists represented in the Impressionist portion of the exhibition include Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissarro, Childe Hassam, Willard Metcalf, Harry Hoffman, Edward Rook, and Wilson Irvine.
The American Barbizon
Henry Ward Ranger was one of the artists who enthusiastically searched for an American version of the European art colonies he had visited. In 1899, while travelling through Connecticut by train Ranger became enthralled in the countryside, comparing it to the Barbizon area in France. He described the area as a "landscape waiting to be painted." Eager to establish a collaborative artistic environment similar to that which the French artists enjoyed, Ranger encouraged other painters to follow him to Old Lyme, and the "American Barbizon" was born.
Ranger and his fellow artists found a kindred spirit in Florence Griswold, the owner of the boarding house where they stayed. The Griswold House, which the artists dubbed as the "Holy House," became the center of colony life with Miss Florence playing innkeeper to her bohemian group of painters. The artists practiced an art very much influenced by the French Barbizon painters. Like that of their French forebears, the Americans' work favored darker tones and heavy impasto and featured woodland interiors and scenes of country life. Unlike many of their French counterparts, however, they downplayed the hardship of work on the New England farm, preferring to imbue their subjects with a romantic notion of rural labor. Ranger and his group were frequently described as Tonalists and, in fact, Ranger was considered by critics of that day as the leader of the Tonal School in America.
The American Giverny
In 1903, the influential American Impressionist Childe Hassam came to Old Lyme for the first time. He, too, was taken with Miss Florence and the landscape of the region and returned again and again over the next several years. With Hassam came a new style of painting. Influenced by Pierre-Auguste Renoir and others in France, Hassam painted in a brighter palette than did Ranger and his colleagues, and his brushwork was broken into small dabs or apostrophe-like strokes of pure color laid side by side. Hassam is credited with turning the direction of Lyme from the "American Barbizon" to that of the "American Giverny." (right: Childe Hassam (American, 859-1935), Summer Evening, 1886, oil on canvas; 12 1/8 x 20 3/8 inches, Florence Griswold Museum. Gift of The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company, 2002.1.71)
While some of the Lyme painters continued to work in the Tonalist style, artists new to the colony were decidedly oriented towards Impressionism. With the arrival of Willard Metcalf, Walter Griffin, and others, the Lyme Art Colony became widely identified as a center for Impressionism in America. In comparison to the French Impressionists, many of the Lyme Impressionists adopted the style of their French counterparts, but were selective as to their choice of subject matter. Like the Tonalists, they avoided subjects that were unsettling. In addition, while they painted the same subject over and over, they did so without the scientific rigor of the French.
(above: Claude Monet (French, 1840-1926), Voiliers en mer, Pourville (Sailboats on the Sea, Pourville), 1882, oil on canvas; 7 1/2 x 15 1/2 inches, Collection of Rhoda and David Chase)
(above: Camille Pissarro (French, 1831-1903), Jardin de Kew (Kew Gardens), 1892, oil on canvas; 25 3/4 x 21 1/2 inches, Collection of Rhoda and David Chase)
Checklist for the exhibition
(above: Edward Rook (American, 1870-1960), Laurel, c. 1905-10, oil on canvas; 40 1/4 x 50 1/4 inches, Florence Griswold Museum. Gift of The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company, 2002.117)
(above: Pierre-Auguste Renoir (French, 1841-1919), Jardin d'Alger (Algerian Garden), 1882, oil on canvas; 18 1/2 x 22 inches, Collection of Rhoda and David Chase)
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