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Old Lyme Colony Painters

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The Old Lyme Colony was named for painters in Old Lyme, Connecticut, a village that hosted the first major art colony in America that encouraged Impressionism.  Old Lyme was accessible to its New York City-based painters by excellent rail service and was located at the confluence of the Connecticut River and Long Island Sound. The period of its greatest activity was 1900 to 1915.

Joseph Boston was apparently the first artist to have visited and painted in Old Lyme, in 1894, conducting the Westhampton Summer School of Art there, but the town was first 'discovered' by Clark G. Voorhees on a bicycling trip in 1893. Henry Ward Ranger, considered by many to be the most acclaimed artist of the region, was already in the vicinity, but it was Voorhees's recommendation that sent him to Old Lyme in 1899. There he boarded in the slightly run-down mansion of Miss Florence Griswold, whose home rapidly became a mecca for successive waves of summer painters. Ranger took a group of his artist friends to Miss Florence's in 1900, and transformed Old Lyme into an 'American Barbizon', where he became one of the acknowledged leaders of Tonalism at the turn of the century. Ranger sought a bucolic place that was scenic, quiet, and remote and that reminded him of the village of Barbizon, France, where as a young man, he had taken up painting bucolic scenes in a Tonalist style. He sought a bucolic place that was scenic, quiet, and remote and that reminded him of the village of Barbizon, France, where as a young man, he had taken up painting bucolic scenes in a Tonalist style.

In 1903, the arrival at Old Lyme of well-known American impressionist Childe Hassam caused Ranger's tonalist influence to dwindle and the place to take hold as a bastion of Impressionism. The Florence Griswold House, now a museum devoted to the work of its former occupants, was the gathering place for these artists, and, as stated above, living at Griswold House became the first step to acceptance into the Colony personnel, having referred to books and Old Lyme art historians, includes those artists who were considered by each other as members of the Colony.  All landscape painters of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they were an unofficial but well-defined group whose exclusivity was determined by who was allowed by Florence Griswold, counseled by other artists, to stay at her boarding house.

Of this group, most had their primary residences on the East Coast in New York, Massachusetts, or Connecticut.  Several became Midwesterners including Louis Dessar from Indiana, Alonzo Kimball and Louis Betts from Illinois, George Newell and Frederic Ramsdell from Michigan.  Maurice Braun was the only Californian, and Arthur Heming was Canadian.

Artists with considerable book mentions, as well as museum representations, are Childe Hassam, John Twachtman, J Alden Weir, Theodore Robinson, Willard Metcalf, Gifford Beal, and Emil Carlsen. That same group plus Maurice Braun and Guy Carleton Wiggins experience high prices at auction.

Credit for parts of the above information is given to William Gerdts, author of Art Across America, as well as to American Art Review, 6/1997. FLORENCE GRISWOLD MUSEUM by Jeffrey Andersen, and American Art Review, 8/2002, EARLY YEARS OF THE LYME ART COLONY by Pamela Bond

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