I recently visited the Florence Griswold Museum – the Connecticut boardinghouse where American Impressionists of the Old Lyme Art Colony stayed and worked during summers in the early-20th century. And I saw the most incredible thing there – an entire room with wall paintings by some of my favorite American artists!
I’m talking about the dining room, which has panels and doors painted by artists like Childe Hassam and Willard Metcalf. There are also a few painted doors elsewhere in the house. Apparently, there was some European tradition that artists would paint on the doors of homes they had stayed in. At Old Lyme, the artists went a step further and painted on most of the available surfaces in the dining room, not just the doors. It seems that they meant this as a gift to their hostess, Florence Griswold, since they were very fond of her.
This dining room must be one of the most significant collections of American Impressionism anywhere. It’s certainly the most unique and special. Why hadn’t I ever heard about this before? It was a surprising and delightful little room to visit. Many of the scenes are landscapes, but there are also figurative paintings, still lives, animal scenes featuring sheep and cows, and all sorts of other things. A frieze over the fireplace is a fun montage of colony members. The subjects and styles are familiar to American Impressionism, but the effect is quite different on the dark wood of the dining room panels rather than on the usual pale canvas.