Published: May 14, 2002
NEW LONDON, CONN. – Lyman Allyn Art Museum announces a new exhibition, “,” now open to the public and on view through 2004 as a permanent exhibition. The exhibition is timely as it is presented during the 70th anniversary celebration of the museum.
Drawn from the museum’s permanent collection, “” is an evolving exhibition dedicated to presenting a broad chronological range of American art and to exploring aspects of the stories that are connected to the creation of those artworks. The furniture, decorative arts, paintings, sculpture and works on paper on display span more than 300 years of American creativity and provide the viewer with an opportunity to develop a deeper appreciation of the nation’s strength and character as seen through its art and artifacts.
From its earliest days, Americans have applied the same creative spirit and industrious nature that served so well in commerce and the trades to another kind of production — that of the fine and decorative arts. Although the early settlers in America were not surrounded by ancient monuments nor steeped in the skills of pictorial representation, it was nonetheless important to render aspects of the young American culture in artistic forms. Little by little, through needlework and metal craft, through cabinetry and portraiture, America’s unique artistic language began to emerge. American artisans were originally naïve and largely anonymous, but in time, they were joined by others with formal artistic training. The skills of American artists grew rapidly and with equal speed these skills, though partially based on European training, developed distinctly American characteristics. As form so often follows function, America’s pictorial language, replete with various dialects, began to describe America’s stories.
The objective of “” is not only to introduce the viewer to a number of treasures from the museum’s growing collection, but also to deepen their understanding of the personal and cultural contexts from which these great works of art have emerged. It is certainly possible, for example, for a visitor to stand before Daniel Huntington’s large canvas, “Abigail Hinman,” and enthuse about his palette and the deftness of his line.
With this exhibit, the visual experience will take on a whole new dimension when the viewer learns that the dramatic Abigail, as depicted in her satin finery, is a genuine local heroine shown ready to defend her beloved home and the values of her country, as she aims her musket at Benedict Arnold.
Huntington’s painting, aesthetically, obviously stands on its own merit. But knowledge of the story behind the painting increases its meaning and enriches the experience. Similarly, a suite of drawings by John Singleton Copley, “Studies for The Siege of Gibraltar,” in pencil and chalk on blue paper, circa the late 1700s, does not reveal the sad backstory about how he was raised in a rough neighborhood on the wharves in Boston and retreated into himself and his drawings as a way of dealing with the harshness of his young life.
A gallery devoted to early portraitures includes fine paintings of the Lyman Allyn family. Nahum Ball Outhank’s oil on canvas of Captain Lyman Allyn from 1846 allows the viewer to see what the namesake of the museum actually looks like. An uncredited small portrait of Harriet Upson Allyn, oil on panel, circa 1850, shows the sweet countenance of the museum’s most famous benefactor. It was the bequest of Harriet Allyn that enabled the museum to be built for the citizens of New London and to be named after her whaling captain father, Lyman Allyn.
An extraordinary early American needlework piece, ‘The Hanging of Absalom,” circa 1770, of silk and metal thread on black satin, was stitched by Faith Robinson Trumbull, the wife of Jonathan Trumbull, Colonial Governor of Connecticut and mother of the painter John Trumbull. In Colonial America, it was common for current political events to be interpreted through biblical stories. “The Hanging of Absalom” is an example of that practice, using the biblical story of Absalom to depict the events of the Boston Massacre of March 5, 1770.
“” features more than 65 stirring works of art and reveals intriguing aspects of their creation or the life of their creator. In selecting the art and artifacts for this exhibit, the intent was not to offer examples of every medium nor to address every artistic style or movement that may have been active during these years. Rather, “” presents truly engaging art and artifacts whose features or histories are genuinely compelling and which enhance the viewing experience.
Also celebrating the museum’s 70th anniversary is the exhibition “The Vision and Influence of Winslow Ames,” on view as an ongoing exhibition.
“The Vision and Influence of Winslow Ames,” curated by director Charles Shepard, explores the first decade of the Lyman Allyn Art Museum’s history, during which Winslow Ames led the institution as its director. “The Vision and Influence of Winslow Ames” is a cornerstone of the anniversary year exhibitions, many of which are drawn from the museum’s fine permanent collection.
Ames was known as a “live wire” with exquisite taste and the eye of a connoisseur, whose creativity and aesthetic understanding inspired all those around him. Ames believed that the museum should collect “small things” that were both suited to the acquisition budget of the newly opened museum and that he deemed appropriate for the Charles Platt-designed building with its numerous but small galleries.
The exhibit is organized into two segments: the Vision component presents some of the actual art and artifacts Winslow Ames purchased and acquired for the museum. It explores the aesthetic logic that Ames employed to begin organizing the museum’s fledgling collection. The Influence component takes a look at works acquired by the directors of the museum who succeeded Ames and examines how his predilection for fine works of art on paper and small sculptures affected their subsequent buying decisions over the years.
“The Vision and Influence of Winslow Ames” delves into Ames’ decade of leadership during which he arranged for the museum to collect such acclaimed works as the “Study for the Portrait of Mme Moitessier, Standing” by Jean Dominique Ingres, which was included in the recent exhibition “Portraits by Ingres: Image of an Epoch” held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as well as the ink on paper “Landscape” by Annibale Carracci, and small sculptures by Renoir and Ernst Barlach.
Ames had a strong personal belief that people should be able to see fine quality art and artifacts in their daily lives. He purchased art for the museum that would fulfill this vision. He saw an important visual parallel between the lines of sculpture and the lines used in drawing. Visitors will discover and appreciate this similarity of line so clearly evident in the works on view.
It is important to note that under the directorship of Winslow Ames, the museum received its largest gift, the bequest of Virginia Palmer.
Lyman Allyn Art Museum is at 625 Williams Street. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 am to 5 pm, and Sunday, 1 to 5 pm. Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and students, children under eight free. For information, 860-443-2545.
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
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