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The Allen Sisters: Pictorial Photographs of New England
Frances S. and Mary E. Allen, Constance (detail), 1897, platinum print. Courtesy of Memorial Hall Museum.
OLD LYME, CT.-The Florence Griswold Museum presents today The Allen Sisters: Pictorial Photographs of New England, 1885 - 1920, on view through January 8, 2006. Sisters Frances Stebbins Allen (1854-1941) and Mary Electa Allen (1858-1941) began working as fine art and commercial photographers in the 1880s when they could no longer teach due to progressive deafness. Leaders in the development of photography, they were once praised as being among "The Foremost Women Photographers in America." This exhibition, organized by Memorial Hall Museum in Deerfield, Massachusetts, is a tribute to the sisters' artistic legacy, lost from view for most of a century.

The sisters are best known for their romanticized re-creations of old New England. During the early 1900s these Colonial Revival scenes were in much demand by book and magazine publishers. This exhibition combines these nostalgic images with Pictorialist prints. Pictorialism, popularized by Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen, is marked by experimental use of light, subtle tonal gradations, and evocative compositions.

The Misses Allen use their cameras in the same spirit with which a painter uses his brushes, and their sense of composition, of the dramatic movement, is as eminent a qualification for their art as his. Springfield Daily Republican, July 30, 1901

To complement the photographs, works drawn from the Florence Griswold Museum’s expansive collection of Tonalist and Impressionist paintings will also be on view. The visual and ideological similarities between these works provide a provocative new context in which to consider the Allens' haunting compositions.

The exhibition also examines "The Period Eye," the concept developed in the 1970s by art historian Michael Baxandall. It suggests that the moments of formal and thematic convergence witnessed in the exhibition reflect the broader concerns of American society between 1885 and 1920. “Rather than celebrating the progress of science and industry at the turn of the century,” explains Dr. Emily M. Florentino, Curator of American Art at the Florence Griswold Museum, “these paintings and photographs lament their consequences. That they do so using the latest technological developments is point of irony worth consideration.”

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