Published: August 3, 2010
One of the highlights of the current exhibition “Connecticut Treasures: Works from Private Collections” is no longer privately held. The painting †a view of mountain laurel by the American Impressionist Willard Metcalf (1858‱925) †recently became one of the most significant collection additions the Florence Griswold Museum has made in its history.
Metcalf painted “Kalmia” (which he named after Kalmia latifolia, the botanical name for mountain laurel) in 1905 during his first summer staying at Florence Griswold’s boardinghouse as part of the Lyme Art Colony. Metcalf had only to walk a short distance from the Griswold property to capture on canvas this vista of the gentle Lieutenant River partially screened by a blossoming stand of mountain laurel along its banks.
For a few years the painting was seen in various exhibits in New York and elsewhere to much acclaim. Critics instantly recognized the painting’s significance: “Willard Metcalf is at his best in ‘Kalmia,'” one wrote, “with its flowering bushes at the side of a stream, the delicacy of the pink and white blossoms being caught with tenderness and feeling, the result being a picture having much of the poetry of nature.”
Perhaps inspired by this example, Metcalf’s contemporaries in Old Lyme made a practice of depicting mountain laurel. The flower not only became Connecticut’s state flower, but a key motif in American Impressionist paintings associated with Lyme.
“Kalmia” was eventually sold in the 1930s to a private family, who held it for more than 70 years, transferring it from one generation to the next. During this time, the painting remained largely unseen and forgotten by art historians until it was offered for sale to the Griswold museum.
With the help of a consortium of supporters, the museum is nearing completion of a fundraising campaign to replenish funds used to acquire “Kalmia” as part of the permanent collection. The painting joins what is today the largest public holding of Metcalf’s work, comprising oil paintings, pastels, drawings and diaries representing each phase of the artist’s career, as well as Metcalf’s naturalist collection, a group of butterflies and bird eggs the artist gathered during his world travels.
Museum director Jeffrey Andersen said, “What a find! ‘Kalmia’ is a breathtakingly beautiful painting and without a doubt one of Metcalf’s most significant paintings from his years at the Lyme Art Colony. We are thrilled to have the opportunity to acquire this painting for the public to enjoy for years to come.”
The Florence Griswold Museum is at 96 Lyme Street. For more information, www.florencegriswoldmuseum.org or 860-434-5542.
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