Florence Griswold Museum
Arthur Heming, In Canada's Fairyland, oil (Collection of the Art Gallery of Hamilton) one of the paintings in the exhibiton Arthur Heming: Chonicler of the North through June 2, 2013My wife Alice and I drove up from Baltimore late last week to Old Lyme, CT. to the Florence Griswold Museum. We wanted to see their new exhibit on the Canadian artist Arthur Heming (1870-1940) organized by the Museum London in London, Ontario.Shortly after 1900 American landscape painting was shaken up as the new wave of Impressionist thinking reached out shores. Many of the first artists to make the change in their way of seeing were to spend time here in a boarding house run by Florence Griswold on the banks of Connecticut's Lieutenant River. The boarding house survived as the Florence Griswold Museum. As a painter keenly aware of my art predecessors, I've been wanting to pay a return visit to this amazing piece of American art history. We were lucky to arrive on a beautiful if cold afternoon. Here's Alice braving some blustery winds in front of the Museum's boarding house front steps.
While there Griswold's Curator Amy Kurtz Lansing was kind enough to sit down with us and tell us more about the Museum and about their current exhibition of the work of the Candian landscape painter and illustrator Arthur Heming. I'd first learned of the exhibit from the Griswold's website, where the striking image of the leaping deer had caugth my eye.
As a major fan of the Canadian Group of Seven landscape painters, I figured this was a rare opportunity to see the work of someone who while not an official member was associated with the Group. What I hadn't known was Heming spent considerable time at Miss Florence's boarding house. In a way he was something of a bridge between that modernist influenced group of Canadian landscape painters and the early historic period of American Impressionist painting.
Both in Heming's Aurora Borealis from 1906 (in the Griswold's Collection) and in the Heming with the leaping deer at the top of this post, Heming reveals a remarkable sense of design and almost surreal playfulness with his forms. For example, I'm getting hints of a seahorse looking at one of Degas' ballet dancers adjusting her shoe from the two dark trees at the bottom of this Aurora piece. The inventiveness of the American painter Charles Burchfield comes to mind as in his watercolor September Wind and Rain (Butler Institute of American Art) below.
Another Heming in the exhibition, Canadian Pioneers below.
Want to mention just a couple of favorites of the Griswold's Permanent Collection. Below is the powerfully abstract pattern of cast shadows and broken ice in John Twachtman's Connecticut Shore. Winter, c. 1893. My wife Alice is always a bit hard on Twachtman, but she pronounced this oil "the best thing he ever painted." Perhaps she's right.
And here is another oil from Griswold's Permanent Collectionby Matilde Brown, Cornfield Point, c. 1910. When I first saw it mistook the two foreground cows for shadows on the undulating hillsides. That they are so skillfully woven into the overall fabric of her compositon I find a tribute to the subtlty of her eye. It's a bit more tonalist than impressionist but does a wonderful job of wrapping the earth and sky together with an emotion laden atmophere.
The guests at Florence Griswold's house often would paint a small oil on one of the wooden wall panels in the house's dining room. Here is Henning's contribution (the lower panel).
The Museum London that organized the show also loaned some Group of Seven oils to provide some additional context. Here are my two favorite, both by the painter Lauren Harris. First Glaciers Rocky Mountains, 1922.
It had been some time since I'd last visited the Griswold. Since then they added a major new wing that is housing their current Heming exhibit.
I'd like to say this photo of me represents me pressing against the pillars of the Griswold House to help uphold the grand traditions of American Landscape Painting. In truth it's me cowering from the chilly wind blowing in from the west that day.
The Griswold Museum is one of those rare museums where the setting rivals the artwork. The galleries are literally a stone's throw from the picturesque Lietenant River that flows just a short distance farther west to feed the big Connecticut River. The whole area is a landscape painter's dream. Little mystery as to why so many of America's early Impressionists spent so much time there. If you go, you will leave with a way deeper understanding of a major movement in our art history. Highly recommended.If