Editor's note: The following essay was reprinted, without illustrations, in Resource Library on November 28, 2005 with the permission of the author. If you have questions or comments regarding the essay, please contact Mr. Lloyd directly through the following Web address:


In Retrospect: Selected Works by Lyme Art Association Members

by Michael Lloyd



Although summer art colonies existed in America before the turn of the century, when the Lyme Art Colony was established it not only became the largest and "most talked about art colony" [1] during the height of the Impressionist movement in America, but it was also widely recognized as "one of the most important."[2] Through an incredible joint effort, the Lyme artists built a gallery in 1921 as a tribute to the initial camaraderie that made the colony flourish. It was the first American art gallery financed by a summer art colony. Seventy-five years later, this classic art gallery is still owned and operated by the Lyme Art Association, comprised of artist and non-artist members eager to proliferate the spirit and love of art.

The story behind the colony of artists is as colorful as the canvases its artists created. Their activities centered around Florence Griswold's boarding house in the quiet Connecticut town of Old Lyme, halfway between New York and Boston. (The town of Lyme historically encompassed Old Lyme, as well as other villages such as Hamburg and Hadlyme.)

Miss Florence, as she was fondly called, lived near the center of town in a beautiful, but decaying, late Georgian mansion she had inherited. Due to the changing economic tides of the late nineteenth century, she took in guests to make ends meet.

In 1899, Henry Ward Ranger, a leading proponent of Barbizon landscape painting in America, stayed at the Griswold house while searching for the perfect place to paint. According to Miss Florence, "The marsh grass, the elms and the stately white houses caught his eye, and others followed." [3]

Ranger envisioned the creation of an American Barbizon based on art colonies he had visited years before in France and Holland. Ranger immediately wrote Robert Macbeth, his agent in New York, to reveal his find. The following year, Ranger returned with a few of his artist friends. Easels in hand, they dispersed into the local countryside.

Starting in 1902, the group initiated summer exhibits of their work in the Phoebe Griffin Noyes Library in Old Lyme. Considered America's first summer art show, the annual event soon attracted dealers from as far away as Chicago. But much to Ranger's dismay, with ChiIde Hassam's arrival in 1903, the colony quickly abandoned its Barbizon roots and emerged as "the most famous Impressionist-oriented art colony in America."[4]

Lyme's annual show expanded, as its reviews and paintings spread nation-wide. In 1904, Anthony H. Euwer wrote for the Pittsburgh Index, "Today the word Lyme or rather Old Lyme is a synonym among painters for one of the most beautiful bits of country the world over." [5]

Students came in droves to study with many of the painters. Frank Vincent DuMond, who taught at the Art Students League in New York City during the year and held summer classes in Lyme between 1902 and 1905, said:

I know of no colony in Europe, where art colonies are as thick as blackberries, that can compare with it, and I have scoured the country over there pretty thoroughly with my classes. [6]

Robert Vonnoh, an early master of Impressionism and his wife, renowned sculptress Bessie Potter Vonnoh, came to Lyme, and like many others, decided to buy a house. The influx of artists revived the local economy, as demand increased for summer housing and services. Barns were customized with large windows facing north, known as north lights, offering artists an even source of light by which to work.

Lillian Baynes Griffin, wife of artist Walter Griffin wrote, "One explanation of the remarkable jump Lyme has taken is that Willard Metcalf sold in three days $8,000 worth of Lyme Landscapes in the St. Botolph Club last winter. This made Lyme landscapes sound like Standard Oil."[7]

Metcalf first came to Lyme in 1905, before he had fully developed as a landscape painter. When he returned the following year, the weather was not as dry as the artists would have liked; they often found themselves painting in the evening if it was not raining.

Metcalf painted a nocturnal scene of Miss Florence approaching the front of her home that was so dramatic, she would not accept it as a gift and encouraged him to submit it for critical review. The painting won a gold medal at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington D. C. and to a great degree, it helped establish Metcalf as a leading American Impressionist.


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