Florence Griswold’s home, once the finest in the town of Old Lyme, Connecticut, had fallen on hard times by the late 1890s. The seafaring trade that had financed the mansion had all but disappeared after the Civil War, and she was forced to take in boarders to pay for the upkeep. Fortunately for her — and for American art lovers — noted landscape artist Henry Ward Ranger arrived and decided it was the perfect place to gather fellow artists.
Ranger had returned from Europe anxious to start a colony similar to the French Barbizon school of realist landscape painters. While the concept of an art community flourished at Griswold’s boarding house, it was the arrival of American Impressionist Childe Hassam in 1904, and the flocking to Connecticut of other Impressionist painters that eventually led to the Lyme Art Colony and Miss Griswold’s home being called “the American Giverny.”
The New England countryside proved to be inspirational to three generations of artists who eventually came to Old Lyme to live and work. The Impressionist hallmarks of studying nature, the effect of light, and the practice of working “en plein air” were put to use in works with local farms, fields and marshes as subject matter.
The community of painters held exhibitions each year, leading to the American art tradition of “summer annuals.” Under the influence of artists like Hassam and Willard Metcalf, and the hospitality of Miss Griswold, the Lyme Art Colony flourished. The focus moved from the tonal style of Ranger to the Impressionist school, notable for its use of bold colors and brush strokes to convey an overall sense of a scene rather than a true replication.
Today, the Florence Griswold Museum includes the restored boarding house that served as a community gathering place for so many prominent American artists, plus the modern Krieble Gallery, opened in 2002. The original house, refurbished in period furniture and décor, once again serves as a retreat for working artists.
The Museum’s extensive collection features many works done by Lyme Art Colony members through the years, much of it with the original house, its grounds and the surrounding area as subject matter. But the collection also includes a wide variety of drawings, furniture, sculpture and decorative art.
The Museum is also a center of art education in Connecticut, offering programs for children and adults, outreach to teachers, as well as lectures and symposia.
The Florence Griswold Museum is located at 96 Lyme Street in Old Lyme, Connecticut. It is open Tuesdays through Sundays year round. Admission is $9 for adults, $8 for seniors, $7 for students and free to visitors 12 and under.