American Art of the Week

American Art of the Week: May Night by Willard Metcalf

May Night by Willard Metcalf
Willard Metcalf, May Night, 1906. National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. Photo via the-athenaeum.org.

I thought that the title of this painting made it appropriate for today. Willard Metcalf (1858-1925) was an influential American artist from New England. He painted this work in Old Lyme, Connecticut when he was associated with the art colony there.* I love the mystery and beauty of this painting. Who is the girl? What is the building, and why is she going there at night? The neoclassical façade calls to mind an ancient temple, though why one would appear in the middle of Connecticut, I have no idea. The unexplained light source, dense foliage, and long shadows also add to its air of intrigue, as does its Impressionist style.

Update 8/22/19: I’ve recently learned that this painting depicts the Florence Griswold House, the boarding house that Metcalf and many other American Impressionists stayed at while painting in Old Lyme. My much less atmospheric photograph of the house is below. Their hostess, Miss Florence, is quite likely the figure in white. I guess that all the mysteries I mentioned above have been solved, but the appealing allure of mystery remains in the painting.

The Florence Griswold House in Old Lyme, Connecticut. Photo by A Scholarly Skater.

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