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Impressionist Giverny: American Painters in France, 1885-1915, Selections from the Terra Foundation for American Art

May 3 - July 27, 2008


The Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, Connecticut, is the first venue for the exhibition, Impressionist Giverny: American Painters in France, 1885-1915. Selections from the Terra Foundation for American Art. Organized by the Musée d'Art Américain Giverny and on view May 3 through July 27, 2008, this exhibition of over 50 oil paintings features Impressionist masterworks by American expatriate artists who worked in this small French village. Attracted by the presence of the Impressionist master Claude Monet, who settled in Giverny in 1883, an international community of artists flocked there from the late 1880s through World War I. More than 70% were Americans. (right: John Leslie Breck, Garden at Giverny (In Monet's Garden), between 1887 and 1891, oil on canvas. Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago, Daniel J. Terra Collection)

The exhibition includes such artists as John Leslie Breck, Theodore Robinson, Willard Metcalf, Louis Paul Dessar, Frederick Carl Frieseke, and Mary MacMonnies. Divided into four sections, the exhibition traces the chronological, stylistic, and thematic evolution of art produced by Americans in Giverny, from Barbizon-inspired landscapes to impressionist views of the village and decorative depictions of women in gardens by members of the "Giverny Group." By establishing a community distinct from the older colonies of Barbizon or Pont Aven, American artists created their own unique vision of the French landscape. Reproductions of archival photos and documents contribute to the exploratory nature of this exhibition.


The "American Giverny"

The Florence Griswold Museum is especially suited to present this international exhibition. The idyllic towns of Giverny, France and Old Lyme, Connecticut share a similar history. Both were creative meccas for artists at the turn of the last century. They traveled to the villages from the nearby cities of Paris and New York in search of plein air painting opportunities and social life among fellow artists. In each town, many of the artists stayed for long periods, formed lifelong friendships and immortalized the surrounding landscapes with their paintings. Ultimately, each village was transformed into a flourishing artists' colony. Many of those who worked in Giverny -- including Impressionist Willard Metcalf -- later came to Old Lyme as part of the artists' colony that thrived at Florence Griswold's boardinghouse. These similarities forever linked the two destinations in art history. Old Lyme became known as the "American Giverny" and the Florence Griswold House (later Museum), the heart of the Lyme Art Colony, became known as "the home of American Impressionism." (left: Louis Paul Dessar, Peasant Woman and Haystacks, Giverny, 1892, oil on canvas. Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago, Daniel J. Terra Collection)

After seeing the exhibition, visitors may tour the Florence Griswold House, where the artists lived and worked. Just as in Giverny's Hôtel Baudy -- the center of the colony's social life -- artists contributed works to adorn the walls of their accommodation. In the case of the Griswold House, they painted directly on the wooden wall panels and doors. The famed dining room contains 40 such works. There is no other room like it in America. A walk through Miss Florence's lovingly restored gardens and down to the banks of the Lieutenant River furthers the connection, invoking Monet's inspirational and often painted gardens and the river Epte that runs through Giverny.


American Influence

Since Americans made up the highest percentage of expatriates in Giverny, the village quickly adapted itself to the English-speaking coterie. "This exhibition allows visitors to consider not only the importance of Giverny for the development of American Impressionism but also the central role Americans played in the village's artistic history," remarks Katherine M. Bourguignon, Associate Curator at the Musée d'Art Américain Giverny/Terra Foundation for American Art. The initial group working in the village included Willard Metcalf, who would become a central figure in the Lyme Art Colony. These artists praised the village to their friends, quickly spreading the news among students at the Académie Julian in Paris. The marriage of American artist Theodore Butler to Monet's stepdaughter Suzanne Hoschedé in 1892 was a symbolic link between the French master and the growing American colony. Artist Theodore Robinson's The Wedding March, a painting of this landmark event, appears in the exhibition.


A World-Class Collection

Fascinated by the Americans who visited Giverny and made it their home, Chicago businessman and philanthropist Daniel J. Terra began to collect paintings produced in the village during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He established the Terra Foundation for American Art in 1978 to promote a greater understanding and appreciation of America's rich artistic heritage through acquisition, preservation, exhibition, interpretation, research, and scholarship. "We are thrilled to have the opportunity to present an outstanding selection of Giverny-related works from the Terra Foundation for American Art," states Jeffrey Andersen, Director of the Florence Griswold Museum. "No one has done more than the Terra Foundation to foster scholarship and general interest in the accomplishments of American artists in France. Given Old Lyme's reputation as the "American Giverny," this is a perfect exhibition for the Florence Griswold Museum." (right: Frederick Carl Frieseke, Breakfast in the Garden, c. 1910, oil on canvas. Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago, Daniel J. Terra Collection)

Terra's collection brings together important works by Theodore Butler, Theodore Robinson, Mary MacMonnies, John Leslie Breck, and Frederick Carl Frieseke. As a group, these pictures tell the story of the American presence in Giverny and establish the format of the exhibition. The earliest works (1885-1890) depict the river Epte, haystacks, and other landscape scenes and village life (1890-1895). John Leslie Breck's twelve-part series Studies of an Autumn Day reveals the inspiration American artists found in the work of their reclusive neighbor Monet, while Theodore Robinson's Pére Trognon and his Daughter captures the expatriates' interest in village inhabitants largely ignored by the French master. Later paintings (1895-1905) capture the artists' intimate circle of family and friends in their own homes and gardens. The final section, the "Giverny Group" (1905-1915), explores the increased interest in painting female figures and nudes in outdoor settings, as in Frieseke's Lady in a Garden, and a renewed fascination with the familiar motifs of poplars, haystacks and village scenes.



Texts by Jeffrey Andersen, Director, and Amy Kurtz Lansing, Curator


Impressionist Giverny: American Painters in France, 1885-1915, Selections from the Terra Foundation for American Art

Welcome to the Florence Griswold Museum! I hope you enjoy this special exhibition devoted to the contributions of a group of leading American artists who found inspiration in the small Normandy village of Giverny, France, where the French Impressionist Claude Monet and his family lived. After you have seen the exhibition, be sure to visit the Florence Griswold House, the former boardinghouse of the Lyme Art Colony, where I think you will find many fascinating parallels to the story of Giverny. As described here, the two colonies shared many of the same artists and aesthetic aims and, over time, Old Lyme was even referred to as the "American Giverny." Our sincere thanks to our colleagues at the Musée d'Art Américain, Terra Foundation for American Art, for giving us this extraordinary opportunity to bring Giverny and Old Lyme together in this way.

-- Jeffrey Andersen, Director


Old Lyme: The American Giverny

At the turn of the last century, artists flocked to villages around Europe to paint the landscape en plein air in the company of friends. But the popularity of art colonies was not confined to the Continent; by 1900, the international trend spread to the United States through artists who had enjoyed life in these rural enclaves in England, Holland, and France. The exhibition Impressionist Giverny: American Painters in France, 1885-1915 offers the opportunity to consider one of the best-known European art colonies-Giverny-in the context of its American counterpart at Old Lyme, Connecticut.

Fifteen years after the first American painters arrived in Giverny, another group of artists congregated at Florence Griswold's boardinghouse in Old Lyme. The Lyme Art Colony shared much in common with Giverny; both communities were near larger urban centers and offered easy access to rural scenery and inexpensive accommodations presided over by gracious hosts.

In 1900, Louis Paul Dessar was the first artist from Giverny to visit Old Lyme. Like other early arrivals, he came to town on the recommendation of colony founder Henry Ward Ranger. Dessar had spent long stretches of time painting in the French countryside, including nearly a year in Giverny. Even after he returned to New York, he visited rural France in the summers, stopping only after his introduction to Old Lyme. Here, he found a working agricultural landscape where he could paint pictures of peasants and livestock as he had in Giverny. He purchased a large farm in Old Lyme in 1901. Like the artists who rented or bought private homes in Giverny but continued to socialize at the Hôtel Baudy, Dessar still took part in the communal life of the Lyme Art Colony. He even appears in Henry Rankin Poore's The Fox Chase, a gentle parody of the group painted over the fireplace in the Florence Griswold House.

Other previous inhabitants of Giverny imported some of that colony's traditions to Old Lyme. Most significantly, Willard Metcalf suggested that the select group of artists boarding in the Griswold House paint the wood-paneled dining room walls, which had been a common practice at the Hôtel Baudy. Several former Giverny artists took part in this endeavor at Old Lyme, including Dessar, George Glenn Newell, Allen B. Talcott, and Charles Morris Young. Their paintings can still be seen in the Griswold House dining room.

By the time of Metcalf's arrival in Old Lyme in 1905, it had become a full-fledged art colony whose communal spirit doubtlessly reminded him of Giverny. Metcalf had flourished in Giverny in the 1880s but struggled artistically after his return to America. At Old Lyme, he found vital encouragement from Florence Griswold and his fellow painters as well as inspiration in his natural surroundings. He not only resumed his practice of collecting birds' eggs-a favorite hobby in France-but completed his most acclaimed painting to date, May Night (Corcoran Gallery of Art).

In its second decade, the international character of Old Lyme began to resemble that of Giverny, which had hosted painters from around Europe in addition to large numbers of American artists. Painters Lucien Abrams, Martin Borgord, Edmund Greacen, Lawton Parker, and Ivan Olinsky had extensive European experience before joining the Lyme Art Colony, often not long after leaving Giverny. Following two years in Giverny, Greacen and his family summered in Old Lyme, where Florence Griswold's gardens and the nearby Lieutenant River reminded him of Monet's flower gardens and the River Epte. Similarities between the idyllic settings of the two colonies also enticed artist Lawton Parker to paint nudes outdoors at Old Lyme as he had in Giverny. He and Greacen exhibited their works together in New York in 1910 as members of the "Giverny Group" in addition to showing their paintings each summer with fellow artists from the Lyme Art Colony.

Although each colony possessed a distinct identity, Giverny and Old Lyme share surprising connections. Not only was there a continuity of membership between the two, but the desire to immerse themselves in rural life by painting en plein air drew artists to both places. Having experienced life in European colonies, artists in Old Lyme revived the spirited social interactions, joint art projects, and sense of mutual support for eachothers' work that made such communities vital to artists' professional and personal lives in the early twentieth century.

-- Amy Kurtz Lansing, Curator


Labels and wall texts from the exhibition

Please click here to view labels and wall texts from the exhibition


Historic Iimage captions (images in exhibition)

Please click here to view historic image captions (images in exhibition)


Exhibition Catalogue

A lavishly illustrated, scholarly catalogue, Impressionist Giverny: A Colony of Artists, 1885-1915, accompanies the exhibition and expands the context to include not only American artists, but European painters who worked in Giverny. Essays by Katherine M. Bourguignon, Associate Curator at the Musée d'Art Américain Giverny/Terra Foundation for American Art, and others trace the theoretical context of artists' colonies; the technical and visual characteristics of Impressionism as practiced by Giverny artists; and the colonists' relationship to Monet. The 224 page book is available in the Museum Shop.


Special Events and Programming

A variety of special events, lectures, and presentations developed in conjunction with the exhibitions will be posted on the Museum's web site, http://www.flogris.org.

Impressionist Giverny is generously sponsored by The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company, the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism, and The Florence Gould Foundation. Additional support has been provided by the Arden and Millicent Yinkey Exhibition Fund, the Nika P. Thayer Exhibition and Publication Fund, and a circle of leadership donors who believe that special exhibitions are central to the Museum's mission. (right: Theodore Robinson, The Wedding March, 1892, oil on canvas. Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago, Daniel J. Terra Collection)

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For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists. Also see biographies from The Terra Foundation for American Art (click on "list of artists")

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