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Florence Griswold Museum Presents Impressionist Giverny: American Painters in France, 1885-1915
Frederick Carl Frieseke, Breakfast in the Garden, c. 1910, oil on canvas. Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago. Daniel J. Terra Collection.

OLD LYME, CT.- The Florence Griswold Museum is the first venue for Impressionist Giverny: Americans Painters in France, 1885–1915, an exhibition of over fifty works organized by the Musée d’Art Américain, Giverny. The exhibition tells the story of the expatriate colony founded by American artists in the village of Impressionist master Claude Monet.

Attracted by the presence of the Impressionist master Claude Monet, who settled in Giverny in 1883, an international community of artists flocked there from the late 1880s through World War I. More than 70% were Americans. The exhibition includes such artists as John Leslie Breck, Theodore Robinson, Willard Metcalf, Louis Paul Dessar, Frederick Carl Frieseke, and Mary MacMonnies. Divided into four sections, the exhibition traces the chronological, stylistic, and thematic evolution of art produced by Americans in Giverny, from Barbizon-inspired landscapes to impressionist views of the village and decorative depictions of women in gardens by members of the “Giverny Group.” By establishing a community distinct from the older colonies of Barbizon or Pont Aven, American artists created their own unique vision of the French landscape. Reproductions of archival photos and documents contribute to the exploratory nature of this exhibition.

The “American Giverny”

The Florence Griswold Museum is especially suited to present this international exhibition. The idyllic towns of Giverny, France and Old Lyme, Connecticut share a similar history. Both were creative meccas for artists at the turn of the last century. They traveled to the villages from the nearby cities of Paris and New York in search of plein air painting opportunities and social life among fellow artists. In each town, many of the artists stayed for long periods, formed lifelong friendships and immortalized the surrounding landscapes with their paintings. Ultimately, each village was transformed into a flourishing artists’ colony. Many of those who worked in Giverny—including Impressionist Willard Metcalf—later came to Old Lyme as part of the artists’ colony that thrived at Florence Griswold’s boardinghouse. These similarities forever linked the two destinations in art history. Old Lyme became known as the “American Giverny” and the Florence Griswold House (later Museum), the heart of the Lyme Art Colony, became known as “the home of American Impressionism.”

After seeing the exhibition, visitors may tour the Florence Griswold House, where the artists lived and worked. Just as in Giverny’s Hôtel Baudy—the center of the colony’s social life—artists contributed works to adorn the walls of their accommodation. In the case of the Griswold House, they painted directly on the wooden wall panels and doors. The famed dining room contains 40 such works. There is no other room like it in America. A walk through Miss Florence’s lovingly restored gardens and down to the banks of the Lieutenant River furthers the connection, invoking Monet’s inspirational and often painted gardens and the river Epte that runs through Giverny.

American Influence

Since Americans made up the highest percentage of expatriates in Giverny, the village quickly adapted itself to the English-speaking coterie. “This exhibition allows visitors to consider not only the importance of Giverny for the development of American Impressionism but also the central role Americans played in the village’s artistic history,” remarks Katherine M. Bourguignon, Associate Curator at the Musée d’Art Américain Giverny/Terra Foundation for American Art. The initial group working in the village included Willard Metcalf, who would become a central figure in the Lyme Art Colony. These artists praised the village to their friends, quickly spreading the news among students at the Académie Julian in Paris. The marriage of American artist Theodore Butler to Monet’s stepdaughter Suzanne Hoschedé in 1892 was a symbolic link between the French master and the growing American colony. Artist Theodore Robinson’s The Wedding March, a painting of this landmark event, appears in the exhibition.

A World-Class Collection

Fascinated by the Americans who visited Giverny and made it their home, Chicago businessman and philanthropist Daniel J. Terra began to collect paintings produced in the village during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He established the Terra Foundation for American Art in 1978 to promote a greater understanding and appreciation of America’s rich artistic heritage through acquisition, preservation, exhibition, interpretation, research, and scholarship. “We are thrilled to have the opportunity to present an outstanding selection of Giverny-related works from the Terra Foundation for American Art,” states Jeffrey Andersen, Director of the Florence Griswold Museum. “No one has done more than the Terra Foundation to foster scholarship and general interest in the accomplishments of American artists in France. Given Old Lyme’s reputation as the “American Giverny,” this is a perfect exhibition for the Florence Griswold Museum.”

Terra’s collection brings together important works by Theodore Butler, Theodore Robinson, Mary MacMonnies, John Leslie Breck, and Frederick Carl Frieseke. As a group, these pictures tell the story of the American presence in Giverny and establish the format of the exhibition. The earliest works (1885-1890) depict the river Epte, haystacks, and other landscape scenes and village life (1890-1895).

John Leslie Breck’s twelve-part series Studies of an Autumn Day reveals the inspiration American artists found in the work of their reclusive neighbor Monet, while Theodore Robinson’s Pére Trognon and his Daughter captures the expatriates’ interest in village inhabitants largely ignored by the French master. Later paintings (1895-1905) capture the artists’ intimate circle of family and friends in their own homes and gardens. The final section, the “Giverny Group” (1905-1915), explores the increased interest in painting female figures and nudes in outdoor settings, as in Frieseke’s Lady in a Garden, and a renewed fascination with the familiar motifs of poplars, haystacks and village scenes.

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