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
Cos Cob, Connecticut
"The first train chuffed across the newly completed Mianus River Bridge on December 27, 1848. By 1870, when the Cos Cob railroad station was built, it took about eighty minutes to get to midtown Manhattan. A special train, added in 1892, made the run in just thirty-eight minutes."11
Cos Cob is one of several sections of Greenwich, Connecticut, located approximately thirty miles from New York City. The railroad served as a vital link between the two. The railway and railroad bridge became common subjects for artists in Cos Cob. Elmer Livingston MacRae's Railroad Bridge, Winter underscores the nostalgia for a less complicated life that artists were already feeling during the machine age. The juxtaposition of the railroad in the background spewing its white puffs of smoke, to the horse-drawn buggy in the foreground, chronicles the rapid changes indelibly altering the landscape. 12
The foundations for the art colony at Cos Cob were laid by the artists John Twachtman and J. Alden Weir. In 1889, the same year he was appointed to the faculty of the Art Students' League in New York, Twachtman settled permanently in Greenwich.13 Weir had acquired property in Branchville, Connecticut, twenty miles from Greenwich, in 1882. By 1892 Twachtman was offering plein-air painting instruction in Cos Cob, generally for a period of three months. In 1892 and 1893 he and Weir taught together, attracting a wide spectrum of students ranging from amateur to professional painters. According to art historian Susan Larkin, Twachtman's most significant contribution as an instructor was at Cos Cob.14 He encouraged students to explore and interpret nature and specifically weather conditions, much as he himself was doing at the time in Impressionistic works such as Snowbound, one of the many views he painted of his home. Weir's adaptation of Impressionist techniques such as the daring use of light and shadow to innovative compositional structures is illustrated in the painting Path in the Woods.
Twachtman, an acerbic but enormously popular teacher, was the lynch pin in the development of Cos Cob. One of the most important artists to come work alongside him was his friend Theodore Robinson. Robinson, a former resident of Giverny and an acquaintance of Claude Monet, served as a conduit of French Impressionism for Twachtman. Twachtman's shorthand notation and ability to summarize and distill images, on the other hand, influenced Robinson's work.15 Robinson's own interest in nautical subjects as seen in Low Tide, was an integral part of his development at Cos Cob.
Another major painter associated with the art colony at Cos Cob was Childe Hassam, who began visiting in 1894 and returned periodically until 1917. His The Mill Pond, Cos Cob, Connecticut , informed by vivacious brushwork and a daring composition, focuses on the repair and upgrade of the Mianus River Railroad Bridge in Cos Cob during the first decade of the twentieth century.16
Cos Cob's counterpart to Old Lyme's Griswold House was the Holley House (originally called the Holley Farm), opened in 1874 by Edward Payson Holley and his wife, Josephine, on their farm in central Connecticut.17 The original boarding house experienced financial setbacks and was foreclosed upon in 1877. Undeterred, the Holleys rented a more modest boarding house in Cos Cob, the Holley House, which they purchased in 1884. Among the early visitors to the Holley Farm were Twachtman and Weir, who later became regulars at the Holley House.
Numerous artists and writers boarded with the Holleys over the years. The segregation between artists and students that existed at the Griswold House was absent at the Holley House: "While many of the artists, writers and editors eventually acquired their own homes in Greenwich, most were introduced to the town as boarders at the Holly House. The boarding house served as a live-in version of the European cafe. . . ."18 The house's traditions were maintained by the Holleys' daughter Constant, who married the artist Elmer MacRae in 1900. MacRae became an important figure in the Greenwich art community, and eventually one of the organizers of the Armory Show of 1913.
From top to bottom: Elmer Livingston MacRae, Japanese Iris, 1914, 24 x 20 inches, Historical Society of the Town of Greenwich; Childe Hassam, Clarissa, 1912, Historical Society of the Town of Greenwich; Bush-Holley House, c. 1930, Bush-Holley House Historic Site; Bush-Holley House Historic Site Visitor Center, November, 1988, Historical Society of the Town of Greenwich
Footnotes: 1 -9, 10-25, 26-38, 39-54, 55-72, 73-79
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