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Faces and Figures: Portraits from the Florence Griswold Museum
October 20, 2007 - January 27, 2008
The Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, Connecticut, presents a new exhibition entitled Faces and Figures: Portraits from the Florence Griswold Museum, on view October 20, 2007 through January 27, 2008. The exhibition marks the first portrait show ever organized by the Museum and celebrates the recent acquisition of Cecilia Beaux's magnificent portrait of Ethel Saltus Ludington, a prominent summer resident of Old Lyme in the early 20th century. The painting joins a distinguished group of portraits at the Museum, hidden gems in a collection best known for its masterpieces of American landscape painting. .
The nineteenth and twentieth-century paintings selected from the Museum's collection provide a context for understanding the function of portraiture during an era otherwise defined by the Impressionist interest in landscape. Artists such as Cecilia Beaux, Robert Vonnoh, and Lilian Westcott Hale took portraiture in novel directions, combining a mastery of the figure achieved through study at schools like the Académie Julian, with an Impressionist interest in spontaneity, observation, and an attention to mood. The centerpiece of the exhibition, the portrait of Ethel Saltus Ludington by Beaux, was a recent gift to the Museum by the Ludington Family. In her lifetime Beaux was considered by many to be the artistic equal of John Singer Sargent. She specialized in portraits of the cultural and economic elite of New York and her native Philadelphia. In the Ludington portrait, Beaux evokes the casual elegance of a woman of Mrs. Ludington's class; she wears an uncorseted tea gown, the proper attire for entertaining at home, and large emerald pendant. The painting conveys a sense of informality, testifying not only to Mrs. Ludington's amiable personality, but also to the relationship Beaux established with her as a woman artist who operated in the same social circles.
Other paintings, such as George Brainerd Burr's, President Wilson's Daughters, ca. 1910, are intimate likenesses of close friends and family that provide a glimpse into the artists' private lives. The painting depicts the three girls, who spent several summers in Old Lyme while their mother studied landscape painting, at a bonfire with the local artists. Burr worked quickly and with loose brushwork at the site to capture the girls' youthful exuberance and the spirit of the bohemian lifestyle enjoyed by those who visited the Lyme Art Colony.
While many of the artists represented in this exhibition, including Will Howe Foote, George Bruestle, Frank Vincent DuMond, Clark Voorhees, and Louis Paul Dessar, later turned to landscape painting, others such as Ivan Olinsky, Oscar Fehrer, and Abram Poole pursued the genre fully, becoming some of the premier American portraitists of the twentieth century.
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