Home Dealers Calendar Articles Fine Art Database About AFA Login/Register
Home | Articles | Giverny and Old Lyme: Art Colonies Tous les Deux

Givery and Old Lyme: Art Colonies Tous les Deux by Amy Kurtz Lansing
by Amy Kurtz Lansing

Portrait of Claude Monet, ca. 1888-1890. Cyanotype, 9-7/16 x 6-5/8 inches. Musée d'art Américain Giverny/Terra Foundation for American Art.

At the turn of the last century, artists flocked to villages around Europe to paint the landscape en plein air in the company of friends. The popularity of art colonies was not confined to the Continent; by 1900, the international trend spread to the United States through artists who had enjoyed life in these rural enclaves in England, Holland, and France. One such art colony was formed by American artists who frequented the legendary community at Giverny, France, a number of whom later spent time in Old Lyme, Connecticut. These two colonies share important ties, and the works of these artists and
the social life they created offer illuminating points of comparison between Giverny and its American successor, the Lyme Art Colony.

The emergence in Giverny of one of the world's best-known art colonies could be considered a happy accident. Seeking an alternative to the Paris suburb of Poissy, Claude Monet arrived in the Normandy farming village of Giverny in April 1883. Little distinguished the modest settlement forty miles northwest of Paris, but its unassuming pastoral character charmed Monet enough that he rented a house. 'I am in ecstasy,' he exclaimed in a letter to the critic Théodore Duret shortly after arriving. 'Giverny is a splendid place for me.'1 He would reside there for the rest of his life.

Willard Metcalf (1858-1925), The Lily Pond, 1887. Oil on canvas, 12-1/8, x 15-1/16 inches. Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago. Daniel J. Terra Collection.

Theodore Wendel (1859-1932), Flowering Fields, Giverny, 1889. Oil on canvas, 12-1/2 x 21-5/8, inches. Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago. Daniel J. Terra Collection.

In search of fresh landscapes to paint, a growing number of artists chose Giverny over the popular art colonies of Barbizon, Pont Aven, and Grez-sur-Loing. The first to stay for any length of time were the American painters Theodore Robinson (1852-1896), Willard Metcalf (1858-1925), Louis Ritter (1854-1892), Theodore Wendel (1859-1932), and John Leslie Breck (1860-1899) during the summer of 1887. Their enthusiastic recommendations inspired other Americans who had come to study at the French academies to take the short train ride out to Giverny. Americans eventually comprised seventy percent of the artists affiliated with what became an international art colony, a community that thrived from the 1880s through World War I.
The word-of-mouth that brought artists to Giverny was not unlike that which later enticed painter Henry Ward Ranger (1858-1916) to embark on his first trip to Florence Griswold's boardinghouse in Old Lyme in 1899. Artist Clark Voorhees (1871-1933), familiar with the surrounding terrain from his cycling trips, may have suggested the Griswold House to Ranger, who came up from New York by train. Delighted by the local scenery and by Miss Florence's hospitality, Ranger returned in 1900 with a group of like-minded artist friends, with the intention of establishing 'an American school of painters of landscape.'2

John Leslie Breck (1860-1899), Studies of an Autumn Day, no.6, from a series of twelve paintings, 1891. Oil on canvas, 12-7/8 x 16-3/16 inches. Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago. Daniel J. Terra Collection.

Unlike Ranger's deliberate efforts to establish an art colony in Old Lyme, Monet did not invite artists to join him in Giverny. Only a few of the American painters who first summered there in 1887 knew of his proximity, and the colony that took shape near his home interacted little with the Impressionist master.3 Their earliest Giverny paintings reflect this independence. Rather than working in a recognizably impressionist mode indebted to Monet, Willard Metcalf and his companions initially executed landscapes using color schemes and compositions they developed in the shady forests of Fontainebleau near the colony of Grez-sur-Loing. Metcalf's The Lily Pond of 1887 renders the Giverny landscape according to the tropes of Fontainebleau: lush riparian terrain, deep emerald tones, and a low-lying perspective. Metcalf's initial attraction to Giverny's forests rather than its fields is also evident in a group of birds' eggs he collected during his first visit to the area.4

Theodore Robinson (1852-1896), Pére Trognon and His Daughter at the Bridge, 1891. Oil on canvas, 18-1/4 x 22-1/16 inches. Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago. Daniel J. Terra Collection.

Although Monet remained aloof from the colony, his paintings nonetheless began to provide inspiration to the artists living and working just down the road from his family compound. Soon Metcalf and the artists Theodore Wendel and John Leslie Breck responded to Monet's vision of Giverny, setting aside silvery greens and sheltering trees in favor of fleeting light conditions and sun-washed grain fields. They painted the patchwork of Normandy farms with textured brushwork in more brilliant colors, and devoted greater attention to atmospheric effects, which shifted frequently in the riverside village. Breck's renderings of haystacks on an autumn day track the sun's passage across the sky, a series that owes much to Monet's serial working method and favorite subjects in Giverny.

In the early 1890s, the Americans at Giverny turned their attention to village life, a subject Monet largely ignored in favor of his gardens. Theodore Robinson, one of the only American colonists who spoke French, developed a special relationship with the people of Giverny, including Monet, who appear frequently in his paintings. Robinson's The Wedding March depicts the marriage of American artist Theodore Butler to Monet's stepdaughter Suzanne Hoschedé  one of the few bridges between the American expatriates and their French hosts. Like Butler,
whose family often served as his models, a number of
Theodore Robinson (1852-1896), The Wedding March, 1892. Oil on canvas, 22-5/16 x 26-1/2 inches. Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago. Daniel J. Terra Collection.

American artists bought houses and became long-term residents of Giverny. Such involvement with the community, however, lessened over the course of the 1890s. For example, sculptor Frederick MacMonnies (1863-1937) and his wife, the painter Mary Fairchild MacMonnies (1858-1946), purchased an old priory, away from the village center, where Mary worked year-round portraying her family life . Their cloistered existence and tendency to depict themselves rather than local inhabitants eventually became the norm in the American colony.

In Old Lyme, as at Giverny, the artists shared a commitment to the local landscape. During the Lyme colony's first few years, Ranger and his disciples rendered forest clearings in mellow golden tones, while William Henry Howe (1846-1929), Matilda Browne (1869-1947), and Giverny transplant Louis Paul Dessar (1867-1952) painted livestock on nearby farms. Childe Hassam's (1859-1935) arrival at the colony in 1903 catalyzed the embrace of impressionist techniques. His attraction to subjects such as the town's classic white Congregational Church led other artists to echo his
Mary Fairchild MacMonnies (1858-1946), Dans la nursery, 1897-98. Oil on canvas, 32 x 17 inches. Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago. Daniel J. Terra Collection.

motifs, making them synonymous with Old Lyme. During the same period, Frederick Carl Frieseke (1874-1939), Richard Miller (1875-1943), and other members of the expatriate colony at Giverny developed an equally distinctive technique indebted to Monet that they employed in depictions of women in garden settings. When they exhibited together in New York in 1910, they were christened 'The Giverny Group' or 'Giverny Luminists,' a label they embraced.

The lodging places of Giverny and Old Lyme were crucial to the popularity of these locations and helped give each colony its distinctive character. Angélina and Lucien Baudy opened the Hétel Baudy in Giverny in June 1887, offering cheap rooms and meals catered to the tastes of expatriate visitors. The proprietors also sold painting supplies and provided resources and space where the artists could work and socialize. Even after other inns opened and artists began to rent or buy local houses, the Hétel Baudy remained the spiritual center of colony life. Around its café tables, artists talked and relaxed in an environment far from the competitive pressures of urban schools and studios. In return they often contributed artworks or painted directly on the walls of the dining room; a practice also engaged in at the colony's American counterpart.

Richard E. Miller (1875-1943), The Pool, ca. 1910. Oil on canvas, 32 x 39-7/17 inches. Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago. Daniel J. Terra Collection

This satisfying combination of work and leisure found its echo in Old Lyme at the boardinghouse Florence Griswold had opened to support herself as an unmarried woman. Ranger, familiar with European art colonies, sensed the potential of the nurturing environment provided by Miss Florence. Living, eating, working, and playing together in the house and on its grounds forged a bond between the artists that they commemorated visually. Henry Rankin Poore (1859-1940) charmingly poked fun at fellow colony members in The Fox Chase  a panoramic painting installed over the fireplace in the Griswold House dining room. After its completion, and at the suggestion of Metcalf, who had spent time at the Hétel Baudy, artists began to paint panels on the dining room walls, a project that continued for the next two decades. The invitation to execute a panel denoted acceptance into the close-knit group, whose members socialized over jovial meals in the room devoted to their works. Most of the Old Lyme panels  still in place today  depict local landscapes; others, such as Metcalf's Poor Little Bloticelli, testify to the arrival of students, often female, attracted by the colony's growing reputation. As at Giverny, Old Lyme artists, seeking quieter surroundings and places to live with their families, began buying homes and studios nearby; however, they continued to congregate at the Griswold House.

Karl Anderson (1874-1956), Tennis Court at Hétel Baudy, 1910. Oil on canvas, 21-1/8, x 25 inches. Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago. Daniel J. Terra Collection.

Exhibiting together underscored the artists' identification as members of a colony and provided a useful way for them to market their works. At Old Lyme, the tradition of formal exhibitions began in the summer of 1902. Linked by an appreciation for plein air landscape and impressionist brushwork, the members of the art colony  like their brethren at Giverny  were further connected by their shared subject matter, which helped give their works instant recognition. After a group of Metcalf's Lyme paintings were snapped up at an exhibition, one critic remarked that their marketability made Lyme landscapes seem 'like Standard Oil.' Virtually certain of success, artists, 'with no less enthusiasm than the gold hunters of '49,' chose Old Lyme as 'a place in which to swarm.'5

Dining in the Florence Griswold House. Photo: Joe Standart.

Willard Metcalf (1858-1925), Poor Little Bloticelli, 1907. Oil on wood panel, 17-1/2 x 11-1/2 inches. Florence Griswold Museum. Gift of the artist.

One of the Giverny Group, Edmund Greacen (1876-1949), spent a couple of years in Giverny before moving to Old Lyme with his family around 1910. A devout admirer of Monet, Greacen softened his brushwork after his return to America, but retained an interest in the gardens and slow-moving streams he had learned to love in France. His migration from one colony to the other suggests the similarities that artists recognized between the two communities - an attitude shared by over a dozen painters who worked in both colonies. In addition to Greacen, Metcalf, and Dessar, this list includes Lucien Abrams (1870-1941), Martin Borgord (1869-1935), Charles Ebert (1873-1959), George Glenn Newell (1870-1947), Ivan Olinsky (1878-1962), Lawton Parker (1868-1954), Allen B. Talcott (1867-1908), and Charles Morris Young (1869-1964).

Both in Giverny and Old Lyme, artists found a place where they could devote themselves fully to art, living inexpensively while painting in a supportive community. The Impressionists who favored each colony, and in numerous cases visited both, found them to be essential antidotes to the competitive urban art world. In the countryside outside Paris or New York, pressures to exhibit and teach receded in the face of picturesque scenery and the promise of vibrant after-dinner discussions. Members of the colonies at Giverny and Old Lyme shared a commitment to place and to creative interchange that enabled them to thrive personally and professionally at the turn of the century.

Edmund Greacen (1876-1949), The Lady in the Boat, 1920. Oil on canvas, 18 x 18 inches. Florence Griswold Museum. Gift of the Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company.

1. Letter dated May 20, 1883, quoted in Paul Tucker, 'Monet, Giverny, and the Significance of Place,' in Sona Johnston, In Monet's Light: Theodore Robinson at Giverny (Baltimore: The Baltimore Museum of Art, and London: Philip Wilson Publishers, Ltd., 2004), 23.

2. Arthur Dawson, 'Artist Versus Art Critic,' New York Times (February 3, 1900).

3. See William H. Gerdts, Monet's Giverny: An Impressionist Colony (New York: Abbeville Press, 1993), 27, 29.

4. The museum acquired Metcalf's naturalist collection, including bird eggs and nests, from the artist's widow in 1971. One egg from Giverny is dated 'May 1885' in Metcalf's hand, suggesting that he was the first American in the village.

5. Lillian Baynes Giffin, 'Art Colony at Old Lyme Expands,' Hartford Courant (July 4, 1907).
Impressionist Giverny: American Painters in France, 1885-1915, Selections from the Terra Foundation for American Art is on view at the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, Connecticut, through July 27, 2008. The exhibition was organized by the Terra Foundation's Musée d'Art Américain in Giverny and is accompanied by the illustrated catalogue Impressionist Giverny: A Colony of Artists, 1885-1915, edited by curator Katherine M. Bourguignon.

Amy Kurtz Lansing is the curator at Florence Griswold Museum, Old Lyme, Connecticut.

Antiques and Fine Art is the leading site for antique collectors, designers, and enthusiasts of art and antiques. Featuring outstanding inventory for sale from top antiques & art dealers, educational articles on fine and decorative arts, and a calendar listing upcoming antiques shows and fairs.