to form: Milton Averys Childs Supper.
By David Brickman
Selections from the New Britain Museum of American Art
Hyde Collection, through Oct. 3
If the thought of great American art collections immediately
brings to mind the Whitney Museum, you’re on the right track.
But it wasn’t the first of its kind. Before the Whitney, there
was the New Britain Museum of American Art in little New Britain,
Conn. Founded in 1903 as the first institution to focus exclusively
on American art, and now undergoing major construction for
expansion, the New Britain Museum has organized a traveling
exhibition from its vast holdings. The Hyde Collection is
the show’s first stop on a national tour.
Spanning the centuries from colonial portraiture to postwar
modernism, Masterworks: Selections from the New Britain
Museum of American Art features 64 paintings in a cornucopia
of styles sure to please art lovers of all stripes. But the
show offers more than pleasure, providing the opportunity
for a mini-lesson in art history as well.
An exhibition of this much scope can be a real problem for
the viewer and the presenter alike. The curatorial staff at
the Hyde has tackled the installation with aplomb, grouping
works in a natural pattern that flows easily, while at the
same time creating some intriguing juxtapositions. A simple
introductory paragraph fills us in on the basics, but visitors
not familiar with the many movements included would benefit
from more extensive labeling.
With a show this diverse, one almost automatically gravitates
toward favorites—either by genre, artist or particular painting—and
I have quite a few worth pointing out. Equally, there are
the clever pairings to expound upon. First, a few special
Falling about midway chronologically in this selection is
a painter of tremendous renown with a local connection. Frederic
Church, whose personal paradise, Olana, placed along the Hudson
River north of Hudson, is represented here by a simply dazzling
painting called West Rock, New Haven. Church’s technical
ability is astonishing, and the view he presents in West
Rock makes the most of the classic 19th-century mix of
naturalism and symbolism to create an image that works on
many levels to impress, instruct and inspire.
For fans of the Hudson River school, there are also paintings
by Thomas Cole, Jasper Cropsey, Thomas Moran and others of
that ilk. Another famous school well represented here is that
of the American impressionists. Led by Frederick Childe Hassam,
whose 1887 Le Jour du Grand Prix is a prominent feature
of the installation, this group lacked the innovative fire
of its French counterpart but made some beautiful work with
a stateside flavor.
My favorite among those included is The Bird Cage by
Frederick Carl Frieseke, an explosion of intense color and
surprising intimacy, as we share the space of a young woman
holding a cage of bright birds amid even brighter flowers.
Underscoring the powerful presence of this piece is its pairing
with a cloyingly mannered view of a similar subject, ladies
enjoying hollyhocks in a garden, by Jonathan Eastman Johnson.
The leap that American artists made from the likes of Johnson
(1876) to those such as Frieseke (1910) is a huge one.
But there was much further yet to go. Individualist Rockwell
Kent, represented here by the typically grand-scaled 1907
Toilers of the Sea, and members of New York’s Ashcan
school, including Gifford Beal (with a 1916 painting), George
Bellows (1913), William Glackens (1910), Robert Henri (1912),
George Luks (1907) and John Sloan (1917) were all much more
fully engaged in the sensibilities of the new century, making
harder-hitting, looser works that were as likely to depict
barroom pals, fishermen or street vendors as lovely ladies.
In a nod to the separation in styles marked by World War II,
and due to space considerations, most of the later work in
the show is grouped in a separate gallery, where a different
sort of art discussion is likely to take place. Here, completely
abstract works, such as Theodore Stamos’ 1949-50 Cathedral
and John McLaughlin’s #20-1960 mingle with contemporary
works that retain representation but also place great emphasis
on color and form, such as Milton Avery’s 1945 Child’s
Supper and Fairfield Porter’s 1953 Laurence at the
The pieces in this section also benefit from thoughtful pairings,
including a brooding Robert Motherwell canvas placed next
to an understated Romare Bearden collage, and the playful
call- and-response between Stuart Davis’ stylized but recognizable
Analogical Emblem Landscape (1933) and Ilya Bolotowsky’s
completely constructivist Composition (1940).
Back in the other gallery, a trio of paintings by Willard
Metcalf, John Twachtman and J. Alden Weir are having their
own little conversation. The Twachtman, a raging Niagara
in Winter (1893), is calmed by Weir’s ethereally lit Landscape
(1894), as Metcalf’s aptly titled November Mosaic
(1922) forms a tapestry-like bridge between the two. Nearby,
a smoky little beach scene by James Abbott McNeill Whistler
sits poised to quietly blow you away.
And there are other surprises: Sören Emil Carlsen’s slyly
cool still life The Samovar, from 1920, looks 40 years
younger, as does Richard Miller’s 1939 Summer Bather,
with its fragmented composition, turquoise light and casually
nude figure. And Peter Blume’s 1976 Boulders of Avila
is remarkable in its scale, colors, details and narrative
Other pieces not to be overlooked are Maxfield Parrish’s glowing
Dusk, Norman Rockwell’s socially conscious Weighing
In and George Tooker’s creepy Bird Watchers. Notably
absent are Thomas Eakins, John Singer Sargent and Edward Hopper—but
there is a nice 1878 Winslow Homer, titled Butterflies.
Finally, the inspired, quirky juxtaposition of a quite small
Ralph Blakelock oil (undated but probably late 19th century),
The Hunter, with Andrew Wyeth’s oversized 1948 tempera
on panel titled McVey’s Barn, provides an interesting
focal point to the overall challenge of putting all this diverse
art in context.
Blakelock’s sincere but hopelessly romantic vision of an Indian
stalking a deer in the dramatic chiaroscuro of a s ummer landscape
behind a huge oak, and Wyeth’s impossibly detailed rendering
of a hayloft, where otherworldly squares of light from an
unseen window give an almost jarring spirituality to the earthy
scene, come together unwillingly but purposefully to represent
the two minds that inform and drive these, and all, American
artists: One is innocent, and too sentimental; the other is
unblinking, even heroic. Still, somehow, they can’t exist
apart. This show proves the collision of the two can make
for great results.
Douglas Hyland, director of the New Britain Museum of American
Art, will give a lecture on the Masterworks show at 2 PM on
Sunday (July 18) at the Hyde.
Gallery, through August 29
While the idea of selling art to raise money is
hardly a novel one in the area, there is something
decidedly different—and refreshing—about Fundamental
Change, the benefit exhibition that opened
Saturday at ADD Gallery in Hudson.
ADD is not a nonprofit organization scrambling
to keep its doors open, but a successful commercial
gallery with a reputation for exhibiting and selling
work by nationally and internationally known artists.
Proprietor Jeff Snider could just as well mount
a summer show and pocket his 50 percent profit.
But instead, he’s hosting a salon style exhibition
of work by some 50 artists to raise funds for
the campaigns of Democratic presidential candidate
John Kerry and Columbia County Judge candidate
This exhibit is unusually consistent in quality
for a fund-raiser, with hand-picked and thoughtfully
arranged paintings, photographs and sculpture
by artists including Grace Knowlton, Lee Lorenz,
Colin Cochrane, Lynn Dreese Breslin, Phyllis Galembo,
Yura Adams and Don Nice. Most of the work is not
overtly political in content, thus avoiding the
potential pitfalls of overstatement and amateurism.
Instead, the pieces included reflect the individual
styles of the contributing artists, as well as
Jeff Snider’s proclivity for well-crafted work
with a clean, modern edge.
Change has a lot to offer; a partisan voice
for 50 artists who don’t make political art, an
overview of Snider’s distinctly crisp sensibility,
and the chance to augment (or start) your art
collection with very reasonably priced work by