I saw a sign for The Hyde Collection on the highway while driving upstate, so I decided to stop there on the way back. I’m so glad I did! I found a world-class art collection in the unassuming Adirondack town of Glens Falls, New York. It really was the most delightful little surprise, and I had a wonderful visit.
Charlotte Pruyn Hyde (1867-1963), an heiress to the Finch paper company, and Louis Fiske Hyde (1866-1934) started the collection in the early-20th century, and Charlotte established the museum in 1952. In my opinion, she belongs on the list of important female art collectors and museum founders like Isabella Stewart Gardner and Marjorie Merriweather Post, though she’s rarely mentioned with them. Her museum is small, but she had seriously good taste in artwork. Her collection currently includes pieces by Rembrandt, van Dyck, Frans Hals, Rubens, Raphael, Botticelli, the della Robbia family, El Greco, Ingres, Renoir, Seurat, and Picasso. There are also plenty of art objects, such as tapestries, medieval stained glass, and Renaissance furniture.
Though much of the collection is European, there’s also a good deal of American art. That made me happy to see, since it’s pretty rare in a museum like this. The great Gilded Age art collectors didn’t consider American art worth purchasing, but the Hydes started several decades later, when perhaps attitudes were changing. Also, The Hyde Collection has continued to acquire works since Mrs. Hyde’s death, so I may have later curators to thank for some of the great American works by Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Eakins, Winslow Homer, William Merritt Chase, Childe Hassam, Anna Wyatt Huntington, and others.
The Hyde House, designed by Henry Forbes Bigelow circa 1907, has a two-story central courtyard onto which the other rooms open. It reminded me of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s famous courtyard, only smaller and less elaborate. In fact, the whole museum seemed to me like a petite Gardner cousin. This makes sense, since Charlotte and Louis Hyde lived in Boston for a time, where they were apparently inspired by Gardner.
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I loved the library full of Northern European paintings, leather-bound books, and dark wood paneling. My only complaint was that it’s too dark to fully appreciate the contents, which include a Rembrandt. The dining room is also dark, but Abbott Handerson Thayer’s dramatic portrait of his daughter stands out anyway. By contrast, the second-floor music room is light and spacious thanks to a large skylight and a generous opening onto the courtyard below. This room contains medieval and Renaissance artworks, including a striking El Greco, a portrait attributed to Raphael, a small Botticelli, large tapestries, and early Italian religious paintings with lots of gold leaf. The bedrooms are small and simply furnished, but they more than make up for it in artwork. My favorites were a cheerful girl in pink by Frederick Frieseke and a stunning Yosemite by Albert Bierstadt.
A later addition to the building holds exhibition spaces for modern and contemporary art. There, I enjoyed “From the Rooftops: John Sloane and the Art of a New Urban Space”, a great exhibition of New York City rooftop scenes by John Sloan and his circle of Ashcan School artists. I learned about the whole social scene that grew up on New York City rooftops, and how artists could observe so much life just by looking at their windows. Sloan’s well-known Sunday, Women Drying Their Hair is part of the exhibition, but there’s lots more to it than that.
There’s a small Butterfly Garden behind the house. The garden is nice enough, but its only sculpture excited me more. Dancing Family by Milton Elting Hebald depicts a family of five holding hands and dancing joyfully. Honestly, this cheerful sculpture was the highlight of my visit and maybe my whole day. It’s worth walking back to the garden to see the sculpture even if nothing’s in bloom. Just make sure to view it from different angles, since the smallest girl is only visible from certain vantagepoints. There are also a few modern sculptures on the front lawn.
I truly enjoyed my visit to The Hyde Collection, and I highly recommend it to anyone passing through the Adirondacks/Lake George area. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but don’t let that fool you. The collections are fabulous in content but small in size, encouraging visitors to spend time enjoying each work without feeling the need to rush on. It’s a nice, relaxed, domestic setting without big crowds. The museum offers an audio tour that you can download to your smartphone. I didn’t try it because I didn’t have my headphones, so I suggest bringing yours.