Laguna Art Museum

Laguna Beach, California


an essay in connection with...

Art Colonies and American Impressionism

January 9 through April 11, 1999


What Made Laguna Beach Special

by Deborah Epstein Solon




Old Lyme, Connecticut

Old Lyme is situated in southeastern Connecticut at the confluence of the Connecticut River and the Long Island Sound. As in American art colonies on both coasts, the railroad was one of the keys to its establishment. When Henry Ward Ranger (1858-1916), one of the founders of the colony at Old Lyme, encouraged his agent William MacBeth to visit the beautiful countryside he had discovered, he told him that his "station is Lyme."5 Under Ranger's direction the colony became a Tonalist enclave, but by 1903 it had begun its conversion into an Impressionist paradise. This transformation was largely due to the arrival of Childe Hassam.

Hassam worked in Cos Cob during 1902, but was in residence in Old Lyme by July 1903, and continued to spend part of his summer there through 1912. With Hassam's arrival the colony once known as the "American Barbizon" or "Fontainebleau in Connecticut"6 was transformed into an exponent of the Impressionist aesthetic. Hassam's works from this period, such as Stone Bridge, Old Lyme, Connecticut reflect the artist's style of Impressionism: broken brushwork, scumbled surfaces, and dramatic viewpoints.

Childe Hassam, The Smelt Fishers, oil on canvas, 22 1/4 x 17 1/2 inches, The Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, gift of Rawson Kelham

Old Lyme had an important, if short-lived, summer school, which "from 1902 through 1905 . . . attracted scores of students from all over the country, giving a boost to the local economy, as rooms and barns to let were suddenly in great demand. At the same time, Lyme was being transformed into a place of both seasonal and year-round residences for artists." 7 The school under the direction of Frank Vincent DuMond, was sponsored by the New York Art Students League, where DuMond was an instructor for more than fifty years. Unpopular with the local residents of Old Lyme, the school relocated to Woodstock, New York, under the directorship of Birge Harrison.

Although the invasion of students ceased, artists continued to come to Old Lyme. One of the village's chief attractions was the gathering place for artists known as the Florence Griswold

Right: George Brainerd Burr, Old Lyme Garden, oil on panel, 12 x 9 inches, Florence Griswold Museum, Connecticut

Left: Miss Florence's home, The Florence Griswold Museum today; photo courtesy of Florence Griswold Museum

House.8 Florence Griswold's family established the boarding house, and she assumed its responsibilities following the death of her mother. Miss Florence herself was one of the central attractions: her magnanimous nature and infectious personality helped establish an environment comfortable for artists. One of the most famous images of the Griswold House with its proprietress is Willard Metcalf's May Night . Metcalf was in Old Lyme periodically during 1905-1907, a juncture pivotal for his Impressionist style. Undoubtedly his most recognized work from that period, the painting shows the temple like, illuminated boarding house with its ethereal hostess almost hovering outside the entrance. Although Metcalf offered the painting to his landlady in lieu of rent, she refused, recognizing it as one of Metcalf s best. It went on to win the Corcoran Gold Medal the following year.9

Willard Metcalf, May Night, oil on canvas, The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Nearly all the rooms in the Griswold mansion were converted into guest bedrooms; the barns and buildings were transformed into working studios. The gardens, grounds, and nearby Lieutenant River furnished artists with rich source material for their work. William Chadwick first came to Lyme in 1903 and settled there permanently in 1915. His On The Porch features the side porch of the Griswold home and a solitary female figure, rendered with an Impressionistic palette and loose brushwork. Guy Wiggins, son of the artist Carlton Wiggens, also settled in Old Lyme. His Church on the Hill depicting Grassy Hill where DuMond and other artists lived, employs plunging perspective, loose brushwork, and a light-infused palette.

Guy Wiggins,Church on the Hill , oil on canvas, 32 x 37 inches, Lyman Allyn Art Museum, Connecticut

Hassam's presence drew other artists interested both in Impressionism and in being in proximity to him. Walter Griffin, Gifford Beal and Edward F. Rook came to the community. Although she always remained partial to Hassam, Florence Griswold allowed the resident artists to establish a hierarchy of who could board at the house. This was a cliquish group; students and casual tourists were not welcome. 10 (Editor's note: click here to view images and text on the history of the Lyme Art Colony.)


Footnotes: 1 -9, 10-25, 26-38, 39-54, 55-72, 73-79

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