Published: September 3, 2002
GREENWICH, CONN. – The Bruce Museum of Arts and Sciences is celebrating its nine decades of collecting art in the new exhibition, “Celebrating 90 Years: The Bruce Museum Art Collection.” The anniversary exhibition, on view through October 14, features artworks purchased by the museum as well as significant gifts. Current acquisitions, which highlight the continuing role of collecting in the museum’s mission, are also included.
The history of The Bruce Museum dates back to 1908, when Robert Moffat Bruce (1822-1909), a wealthy textile merchant, deeded his property to the Town of Greenwich. Mr Bruce stipulated that his dwelling “be used as a Natural History, Historical and Art Museum,” but left only a couple of portraits and a giant clam shell to start the fledgling museum’s collections.
The very first exhibition at The Bruce Museum took place in 1912 and featured the work of members of Greenwich Society of Artists, several of whom were members of the American Impressionist Cos Cob Art Colony. “Celebrating 90 Years: The Bruce Museum Art Collection” celebrates the nine decades of collecting art since that time.
In its early years, The Bruce Museum served as home base for the Greenwich Society of Artists, hosting its Annual Exhibition from 1912 through 1926, with the exception of the war years, when exhibitions were suspended. The Cos Cob School is now well established as an important part of the history of American painting, and it forms the nucleus of the museum’s holdings of paintings, watercolors, sketchbooks, and notebooks by such artists as Leonard and Mina Fonda Ochtman (1862-1924), George Wharton Edwards (1869-1950), and Hobart Jacobs (1851-1935).
The interests of the Greenwich Society of Artists in The Bruce were represented by Leonard Ochtman (1854-1934), who served for many years as the museum’s art advisor. Through his efforts, many artists contributed their work to the growing collection. In 1921, Ochtman secured from the Council of the National Academy of Design the gift of a painting purchased by the Henry Ward Ranger Fund entitled “Fall Round-up” by Carl Rungius (1869-1959), which is on display in the current exhibition. Several of Ochtman’s own works entered the collection by gift, including “The Early Snow,” donated by his daughter Dorothy in 1958, are also on view.
Ochtman served as head of the exhibition committee and president of the Greenwich Society of Artists from 1919 to 1933 and was, according to art historian Dr Susan Larkin, “in effect, The Bruce Museum’s first art curator. When two naturalists were appointed as the first staff in 1916, he continued to define The Bruce’s artistic policy.”
Unlike the Impressionists who worked en plein air, Ochtman painted in the studio from oil studies, distilling elements from various sketches to heighten the emotional impact. His snow scenes could be painted in the hot months of summer or in snowless years, such as 1913, when he wrote to his daughter Dorothy: “Snow pictures will be as scarce as ice. However, I have [the advantage over] some of the snow painters. I can paint them out of my head in summer time.” By then, Ochtman was churning out so many winter landscapes that the family referred to them generically as his “snows.”
One of the most important groups of paintings to enter the museum’s collection was the group of eight works purchased following the 1919 Society of Artists exhibition. This selection included “Peonies” by Emil Carlsen (1853-1932), “The Old Pasture” by Charles H. Davis (1856-1933), “August Morning” by Matilda Browne (1907-1961), “Still Life – Dark Blue Soup Tureen” by Elmer MacRae (1875-1953), “Sunset” by James Gale Tyler (1856-1931), “River Road” by George Wharton Edwards (1859-1950), “Summer Flowers” by Florence Gotthold (1858-1930), and Leonard Ochtman’s “October Morning.” Emil Carlsen’s painting is on view in the current exhibition, while several of the other works are exhibited in the museum.
“Emil Carlsen’s ‘Peonies’ are lush, fresh and appealing,” commented exhibition curator Nancy Hall-Duncan. “Though not an Impressionist by the strictest standards – he worked an academic style and used neither the broken brushwork nor high key palette so typical of the movement – he was influenced by a broad circle of friends who were impressionists and was frequently included in their circle. Peonies attests to the assessment of a 1921 critic that stated ‘Carlsen has an inward eye … a rhythm and music and poetry, a serenity and dignity and sublimity which makes his still-life groupings classic.'”
Undoubtedly one of the most important donations to the museum’s fine art collection of the middle of the last century was the bequest of George Norris Morgan in memory of his wife, Ethel Boies Morgan. The gift included ten paintings, in addition to a large group of decorative arts. The exhibition highlights one of the perennial favorites of the group, “The Broken Flower Pot,” by Belgian painter Jan Verhas (1832-1896), which depicts two finely attired young children standing guiltily beside a potted plant that has spilled onto a hard tile floor.
The anniversary exhibition includes a 1902 painting by Childe Hassam (1859-1935) titled “The Mill Pond, Cos Cob,” which is considered the single most important gift to The Bruce. It was purchased at a Sotheby’s auction by an anonymous donor and presented to The Bruce Museum in 1994.
Hassam worked in Greenwich from 1894 to 1917, painting with a community of artists now known as “The Cos Cob Clapboard School” because they so often depicted the area’s architecture. “The Mill Pond,” an early example of Hassam’s use of industrial imagery showing approaching locomotives on the Mianus River railroad bridge, was painted from the vantage of the Holley boarding house in Cos Cob.
Writing about this painting in A Regular Rendezvous for Impressionists; The Cos Cob Art Colony 1882-1920, Dr Susan Larkin stated: “In 1902, Hassam worked at the Holley House, possibly in an unbroken stay, from spring until the day after Thanksgiving, executing at least five oils and more than 20 pastels… [One of these] the oil ‘The Mill Pond, Cos Cob,’ depicting repair work on the Mianus River railroad bridge, marks Hassam’s first treatment of modern technological labor.”
Curator Hall-Duncan commented, “The composition of this work is visually sophisticated; the railroad bridge and boats dominate the work with their strong geometric forms, grounding and focusing the shimmering light and color. The painting reflects not only the daily activities and rural pleasures of Cos Cob, but also the development of the area, with the railroad linking it to the larger economic and commercial interests of New York City. It also reflects the influence of French impressionist style, with its broken brushwork, high key color and shimmering surface effects.”
The site is now known as The Bush-Holley House and is home to the Historical Society of the Town of Greenwich.
Also on view is “Procession Crossing the Bridge,” by Leon Gaspard (1882-1964). The painting was one of three bequeathed to The Bruce Museum in 1984 by Erwin S. Barrie, who was the director of the Grand Central Art Galleries in New York for many years.
In addition, “Celebrating 90 Years” highlights acquisitions of recent decades, such as the 1999 gift, “Portrait in Black with a Thistle in Her Hand,” by the portraitist Ammi Phillips (1788-1865), from the Arthur M. Sackler Foundation.
Between 1820 and 1862 the self-taught, itinerant painter Phillips executed over 200 portraits of prominent Connecticut citizens, including an ex-governor, judges, colonels, doctors, newspaper owners and affluent farmers. Though the exact date of “Portrait in Black…” is not known, it is thought to have been done around 1848 on the basis of stylistic and costume similarities to a signed and dated portrait of the artist’s cousin, Jane Kinney.
Another exceptional gift is a watercolor on vellum by Pierre-Joseph Redouté (1759-1840) donated by Mr and Mrs Thomas Mellon Evans in 1986. That painting, by the artist known as the “Raphael of Flowers,” is on view in the exhibition “The Floral Art of Pierre-Joseph Redouté,” running concurrently at the Bruce Museum through October 3.
“Celebrating 90 Years: The Bruce Museum Art Collection” is on view in the museum’s Bantle Lecture Gallery. “The Floral Art of Pierre-Joseph Redouté” is on view in the Arcade Gallery.
The Bruce Museum of Arts and Science is located at 1 Museum Drive in Greenwich, Conn., just off I-95, Exit 3, and a short walk from Metro-North’s Greenwich rail station. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10 am to 5 pm; Sunday, 1 to 5 pm. Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and students, and free for children under five. Admission is also free to all on Tuesdays. (In remembrance of the tragic events of September 11, 2001, the museum will also offer free admission to all on Wednesday, September 11, 2002.) Visiting hours may be limited due to public programs taking place in the Lecture Gallery. Call the museum at 203-869-0376 for information.
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm