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American

Situated in eastern Connecticut just north of I-95 near the campus of Connecticut College in New London, CT, the Lyman Allyn Museum gets overlooked in a state loaded with the Wadsworth Athenaeum, the Yale University Art Gallery and the New Britain Museum. A stubborn Yankee institution, it remains defiantly American and as a result has the purity of vision that makes it a throwback experience. Brown may be down in the art market, but when one sees a great Hudson River painting or a unique piece of furniture here, it doesn't just resonate, it sings. 

A time out; I have a confession to make. I am a Yankee, and native by blood to this particular corner of the state going back some 380 years, so when I refer to the local arms making traditions or the unique landscape painters of an Episcopalian college that became better known in New York, it's because those artists and I shared not only the same education, but the same lineage. Colonial New England was very inbred, yet having hewn this particular society out of the wilderness, its people were tough artisans capable of solving problems on their own, be it the marauding French and Indians out of the north in the first part of the 1700's, then giving the British a deserved bloody nose in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. A century plus later, the area's manufacturers became the arsonal of democracy, and one that provided the USA and UK the tools to win World Wars One and Two. 

Out of those trades of arms manufacturing and related financial services (such as insurance), they endowed Connecticut with a class of indivduals, locally known as Swamp Yankees, whose largess created museums like the Lyman Allyn and the Wadsworth Athenaerum. Unlike the Hartford museum, which remains muddled by a multi cultural myopia, the stripped down look of the Lyman Allen is all in sync, from entering the Classical revivial building of the 1920's meant to evoke the collegiate architecture of a century earlier, once in the main gallery a colonial dame armed with a rilfe lets you know these Yankees didn't screw around. They played for keeps. When I see that image, I feel I have come back home.

Electric Boat across the Thames River in Groton still makes the finest nuclear submarines in the world, gray leviathans that ghost the ocean floors. Recently one of the modified Ohio class popped up in the south China Sea utterly unexpected by the new Mandarins of Beijing. When this writer last saw the USS Michigan or USS Florida, likely the paramount SSGN class of interest to China, I was in the five seat of an eight man shell of a Trinity College leightweight eight pulling ahead of the United States Coast Guard Academy in 1984, the Trident leviathan waked our boats, on its inevitable way out to sea but we (Trinity College) won our race, while the Groton-made Tridents still keep the peace, first as ballistic milssile subs, then later as cruise missile platforms.

 lyman yankeeDSC 0036Daniel Huntington (1816-1906), Abigail Hinman

According to the Lyman Allyn Museum: Hinman was an American patriot and New London native who is best remembered for her decision to remain at her home while the British burned the city in September of 1781. Her husband, Captain Elisha Hinman, was away at sea when New London was attacked by British commander and New Haven traitor, Benedict Arnold. As recounted by Abigail to her chldren and grandchildren, she stood by her window watching the British when she identified Arnold and seized a musket to take aim. Upon pulling the trigger, she found the gun was not loaded.

aaDSC 0005Victor deGrailley (1811-1889), View of Niagara Falls

DeGrailley was a French Barbizon artist whose most popular work in the 21st century are his American landscape paintings based by the Parisian artist upon engravings he saw by William Bartlett published as illustrations in the 1839-1840 book by Nathaniel P. Willis titled, American Scenery.

aaDSC 0019Thomas Cole (1801-1848), View of Mount Aetna from Taormina, Sicily

Cole was the first artist of the Hudson River School, British born, but an American by choice when his family emigrated to the States after the hardships post Waterloo. Years without Summer, and the famines of 1816 and 1817.

His career took off in the post Erie Canal boom of 1825 in New York and as such, while never rich, he could afford in some cases to travel around Europe in a station he could have never imagined when his family left Britain for the New World in 1817.

aaDSC 0020Jasper Francis Cropsey (1823-1900), View of Stifford, 1858

Jasper Cropsey was one of the fine young artists who achived prominence after the premature death of Thomas Cole in 1848. Cropsey too went abroad and lived mostly in Britain from 1858 to 1862. While in Britain he painted his best works of America, including Autumn on the Hudson, which he was forced to include pasted examples of reddish maple leaves to show a skeptical English audience that such pyrotechnical colors indeed existed in nature.

aaDSC 0022Frederic Edwin Church (1823-1900), Study for New England Scenery, 1850

Frederic Church was the son of Aetna Insurance pioneer Joseph Church. Similar to this writer, Joseph was a graduate of Trinity College, Hartford, but made his fortune in insurance. Frederic was a lad with options and when at the age of eighteen he declined to march in his fathers steps, he asked for a future as an artist. Joseph was horrified yet turned to neighbor Daniel Wadsworth for advice. Wadsworth, nephew of painter John Trumbull recomended Thomas Cole, so Frederic Church at the age of eighteen was shipped off to Catskill NY to study under America's formost painter, Cole. 

aaDSC 0024Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900), New England Landscape

An early large canvas by Church from the late 1840's or early 1850's. Surprisingly little has been written about it, perhaps overshadowed by the sublime masterpieces he quickly became famous for in his career, ranging from Twilight in the wilderness, to Icebergs of the North and the South American landscapes, best examplified by Heart of the Andes in the Met.

After Cole's death in 1848, Church wandered about his native New England in search of subject matter, while those trips produced Haying near West Rock and the Mt. Desert Island series, undoubtably it gave him the basis for this work as well.

aaDSC 0024hMartin Johnson Heade (1819-1904), Connecticut Landscape, 1868

Well known to museums and collectors alike today, Heade was a minor artist in his lifetime, he became famous only after his death when one of his black sky paintings was discovered in a Larchmont antiques shop by NY dealer Victor Spark. Later that oil Thunderstorm over Narragansett Bay was exhibited to great acclaim during World War Two patriotic exhibitions, that reignited popular interest in the then forgotten Hudson River School. The dramatic, almost surrealist quality to Heade's work found much greater acceptance to a 20th century audience already familiar with surrealism than Heade got from his 19th century peers. His closest friend, Frederic Church sort of dismissed him as an artistic errand boy and subjected the older artist to pranks in the studio. This work was likely done right after a visit to Church's home in Hudson NY as northwest Connecticut is only twenty miles from Olana.

aaDSC 0026George Inness (1823-1894), Catskill Landscape

George Inness was the first of the Hudson River School artists to embrace contemporary European landscape painting ideals. This was a tremendous exception to his fellow Americans who saw themselves as scientific naturalists in a new Garden of Eden. The Americans thought they must paint truth in nature or an allegorical ideal conveying the evolution of the New Eden as it morphed into manifest destiny. In either case, truth was paramount and art was secondary. Inness saw things differently. While in Europe in the 1850’s he was exposed to the Barbizon artists, and there he discovered the seemingly innocuous idea that art could be paramount. Unlike the French intellectuals, veterans of the political upheavals of 1830 and 1848, Inness chose symbols that lay in religion or emotion, rather than politics. Once when asked the location of a painting, he responded, “ I do not paint guide books.”  Nor would he.

aaDSC 0032HomerWinslow Homer (1836-1910), Shepherdess Tile, 1878

A Boston native who came to New York where he made his mark as an illustrator for Harpers Weekly, Homer is generally thought to be a genre artist, whose foremost concern was the human figure, and depicting day to day human interaction. During the late 1860’s and early 1870’s he often ventured north up the Hudson River valley during summer where he stayed near Newburgh at Houghton Farm. While not a Hudson River School image, “Snap the Whip” was likely painted in Hurley near Kingston in the Hudson River Valley. One of his great lost paintings is an oil of ladies with parasols walking underneath the Kaaterskill Falls from 1872.

An aloof figure to many, Homer skirted the edge of society and while he came of age with an earlier generation of native born painters, to the younger artists schooled in Europe, Homer achieved an elder statesman status, with this best illustrated by his work amongst the so called "Tile Club," a group of artists active in the New York area in the late 1870's and early 1880's who traveled about seeking arcane subjects, much the way they did earlier in Europe as they pooled their meager resources so far from home.

aaDSC 0033metcalfWillard Metcalf (1858-1925), The Green Meadow, 1919,

Willard Metcalf was a unique synthesis of Yankee background melded with dazzling virtuoso French technique. A pupil of George Loring Brown, he made his own way in life by heading west to work as an illustrator in 1881. Then, using the proceeds of his Indian country sales, he financed a trip to Paris where he studied in the atelier of the Academie Julian under Boulanger and LeFebvre. His days in France were less memorable for the Academie than the comradship he struck up with fellow artists Theodore Robinson, John Leslie Breck, and John Twatchmann. This freindship lead to the establishment of the American artists colony in Giverny. Metcalf passed through there in 1885 and remarked it was pleasant and inexpensive. Giverny also brought contact with Claude Monet who encouraged a brighter palette by working direct in sunshine en plain air.

According to the monograph, Sunlight and Shadow, the Life of Willard Metcalf by Elizabeth de Veer and Richard Boyle, in 1919 Metcalf spent the spring in Woodbury, CT.

aaDSC 0035wilesIrving Ramsey Wiles (1861-1948), Lady Reading, 1889

A follower of the better known Impressionist painter William Merritt Chase, Wiles was the last known artist of his generation active with the bravura brush style. When he fell into eclipse in the 1940's, Abstraction had come into vogue, and it wasn't until the late 1960's when Chapellier Gallery visited his deserted Nassau Point studio on the North Fork of Long Island, that most of his surviving paintings were then rescued from the elements. His studio on Indian Neck Road had the windows shattered, and moisture had fallen on his poorly stored paintings in the winter months. With his rediscovery came shows, and eventually a show at the Newark  Museum curated by the late Gary Reynolds.

aaDSC 0036PotthastEdward Potthast (1857-1927), Ocean Breezes, circa 1910

One of a number of important American artists from Cincinnati. In the 19th century a number of immigrants from Germany settled there after fleeing the social upheavals of that country during the first half of the 19th century. Twachtman and Potthast came of German stock and both studied in Munich for their training in art. Potthast was a later arrival to expatriate life as he remained in Cincinnati until the age of thirty before going abroad. Potthast’s work is described as an amalgam of strong Munich brushwork and the bright palette of Impressionism, for three of his years abroad were spent in Paris where he was influenced by the work of fellow American student Robert Vonnoh who in turn was a part of the circle around Giverney’s Claude Monet.

Potthast is best known for sun drenched beach scenes of people at play on the sand and in the surf. In these pictures the artists eye was ever alive to the subtleties of colors found in reflected light as well as colors in direct sunshine. Adjusting his palette to the uppermost register of bright color imposed by these surroundings, he worked directly from nature. His method was direct, here is great assurance in his work. Potthast’s prolific variations on this dominant theme - beach scenes - made him a younger more vigorous counterpart to Eugene Boudin, the French Impressionist.

aaDSC 0038William Chadwick (1879-1963), The Hammock

Born in England, Chadwick moved to New York City as a child, studied at the Art Students League before he settled permanently in Old Lyme where he became a leading member of the Lyme Art Association. He continued to travel and his landscapes are known of New Hope PA, Monhegan, ME, Bermuda in the early 1920's, as well as having produced canvases during the earlier trip to Europe. He is best known for his landscapes of the Old Lyme, CT area with his mountain laurel paintings becoming iconographic images of Connecticut Impressionism. While he studied under John Twachtmann in his student days, his style most reflects that of his close friend Childe Hassam.

aaDSC 0039chadwick46William Chadwick (1879-1963), Connecticut River, View from Ely's Ferry Road

The Chadwick home and studio eventually became a part of the Florence Griswold Museum, Old Lyme, CT.

aaDSC 0044Guy C. Wiggins (1883-1962), The Church on the Hill, 1910-1912

The son of the artist Carlton Wiggins, Guy Wiggins had an extraordinarily long career. Exhibiting at the National Academy of Design as early as the age of twenty in 1903, Wiggins remained active until the late 1950's. Despite studying under his conservative father, the biggest influences on him were artists John Twachtmann and Childe Hassam. Both of those artists spent the  warmer months in rural Connecticut in the artists colony of Old Lyme, which is where this painting was created.

aaDSC 0045wigginsGuy C. Wiggins (1883-1962), Snowed under in New York

Wiggins energetic brushwork and fondness of wintry New York subject matter, made his career. The eminent art historian Donelson Hoopes once wrote that Wiggins represented the final flourish of the American Impressionist style of American painting.

aaDSC 0046ebert20150428 132711Charles Ebert (1872-1959), Church in Venice

 

aaDSC 0047ebertCharles Ebert (1872-1959), Portrait of Mrs. Ebert

 

aaDSC 0068x20150428 133133Jacobean Chest on Frame, 1690-1700, American, Tulip and Poplar

 

aaDSC 0069x20150428 133039Norwich Chair, Circa 1785, Felix Huntington attributed, American, mahogany with embossed leather

 

aaDSC 0070ox20150428 132958Chest on Chest, circa 1750, Unknown maker, American, maple and pine

 

aaDSC 0071Chest on Chest, circa 1775, Unknown maker, American, Mahogany and Poplar

 

aaDSC 0071x65Empire Secretary, circa 1830, Unknown, American, Mahogany with Rosewood veneer

 

aaDSC 0072sm20150428 140257The Montesi Ships: Maritime Folk Art

"The Montesi Ships: Maritime Folk Art," displays the fine handcrafted ships made by Pasquale Montesi, an Italian immigrant who settled in Norwich in 1898. As a youth, Montesi learned to sail in the Italian Navy and came to Norwich via a shipwreck off Bermuda

aaDSC 0073sm20150428 140315The Montesi Ships: Maritime Folk Art

Pasquale Montesi never learned to read or write and relied only on his memory and experience to create these remarkable maritime models, working without the aid of blueprints or drawings.

aaDSC 0074whaling20150428 135953Thomas F. Peterson, Whaling Scene circa 1925, formerly in the Mariners Savings Bank, New London, CT

 

aaDSC 0075x20150428 132822 1Beatrice Cumming (1903-1974), Electric Boat Shipyard, Groton, CT

Titled Chubb in the gallery of the museum, this work clearly depicts the construction of a submarine at the boatyards of Electric Boat located across the Thames from New London in Groton, CT. 

aaDSC 0078William Zorach (1889-1966), Figure Study, American, Bronze

Lyman Allyn Art Museum

625 Williams Street, New London, CT 06320

Exit 83 off of I-95 Ample Parking

For more information call 860.443.2545

www.lymanallyn.org

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About the Author

Robert Alexander Boyle

Robert Alexander Boyle

 Alexander Boyle is a graduate of Trinity College, Hartford, CT where he majored in History. Prior to graduation he co-authored the seminal book Acid Rain in 1983. Alex has worked for the Metropo...
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