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Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center Acquires Three 19th Century Paintings
Henry Gritten (American, 1818-1873), "View of Springside" (1852). Oil on canvas, 25½ x 37 in. Promised gift to the collection, The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College.

POUGHKEEPSIE, NY.- When it was completed in 1852, the Poughkeepsie Eagle praised Matthew Vassar’s Springside estate, “Thou art indeed a realization of a painter’s dream….” The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College has recently acquired three paintings of Springside by American landscape painter, Henry Gritten (1818-1873), as promised gifts to the collection. The paintings demonstrate the verity of the Eagle’s proclamation.

The three vivid oil paintings depict Matthew Vassar’s Poughkeepsie estate after its completion in 1852. The paintings serve as important records of the landscape and architectural design of Andrew Jackson Downing. Downing designed Springside for brewer, philanthropist, and founder of Vassar College, Matthew Vassar, as an idyllic home and nature retreat.

“The Gritten paintings of Springside are unique and important historical documents and critical to our understanding of a major lost monument in the history of landscape design,” said Lehman Loeb Art Center director James Mundy. “They complete the picture of Matthew Vassar as an architectural patron.”

The paintings, auctioned at Christie’s in New York City on January 23, 2009, were purchased by an anonymous Vassar alumna and her husband and will reside at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center as promised gifts. Currently being conserved, the Gritten landscapes will be installed in the Art Center galleries by early fall 2009.

According to a family history, cited in the Christie’s auction catalogue, these three paintings were acquired in 1898 from a yard sale in Poughkeepsie by Springside’s caretaker, Karl Keiling (1865-1939).

ABOUT SPRINGSIDE At the time of the Springside commission, Andrew Jackson Downing was considered the leading American horticulturist and tastemaker in the field of architecture and design. Downing had been appointed by President Filmore to design and supervise the landscape surrounding the White House, the Capitol, and the Smithsonian. Springside, a National Historic Landmark located at Academy Street and Route 9 in Poughkeepsie, is the only surviving Downing landscape and is today being preserved by the Springside Landscape Restoration organization.

Springside’s design exemplified Downing’s theories of combining the beautiful in nature and art. In contrast to the leading trend for rigid, geometric, neoclassical landscape design, Downing advocated in his writings for architecture and landscapes that complimented the rugged New England and Hudson River Valley terrain. His designs strove to exist in harmony with nature.

The original plans for Springside, now part of the Vassar Library collection, show winding paths and thickets of trees. The Gritten paintings allow the 21st century viewer to more completely envision Downing’s actualized design. The paintings depict the winding trails, the lush foliage, and the buildings that complimented rather than competed with the natural scenery. Although many of the pathways survive today, only the Gatehouse remains on the Springside ( ) property.

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