In the 19th century, the art world was rocked by a group of painters — working mostly in Paris — who discarded the long-held rules of painting in favor of a new style. They set out to capture how something felt as much as how it looked, emphasizing colors and light over traditional within-the-lines replication. These artists are among the most well-known and collected painters of the age — Renoir, Manet, Degas, Cezanne and Monet.
There was a resulting Impressionist movement in America late in the 1800s as well, and it was largely based in Connecticut, at what is now known as the Weir Farm National Historic Site in Wilton and Ridgefield – one of just two visual arts sites in the National Park Service.
In 1882, painter J. Alden Weir traded a still life painting for a 150-acre farm. For 37 years the farm, and the additional land he acquired around it, became his summer home and studio. He named the property “The Land of Nod,” and through the years he brought some of the country’s leading artists to live and work there.
Weir was hugely influential on the American art scene, as a painter and as a president of the Society of American Artists and a board member at the Museum of Modern Art. Inspired by the setting of his Connecticut farm, he began to paint more and more in the Impressionist style he’d studied first-hand as a Paris art student . Other notable painters to visit and work at Weir’s farm included Childe Hassam and John Henry Twatchman.
In the 1930s, a new generation of artists began work at Weir Farm, led by J. Alden Weir’s daughter Dorothy and her husband, sculptor Mahonri Young. A Utah native and the grandson of Brigham Young, his notable works include the figure of his grandfather in the U.S. Capitol and “This Is The Place,” a Salt Lake City monument commemorating the early history of the state and the Mormon Church. These works were completed at Weir Farm before their installations on site.
In the 1950s, artist Sperry Andrews and his wife Dorothy, neighbors and friends of the Weir family, bought the property and set about a decades-long preservation project.
Today, the property remains an active haven for artists. While protected and managed by the national park Service, the site is open to artists who come to paint and sketch “en plain air” in the style of the French and American Impressionists. Visitors can view the sites that inspired generations of artists, and even use the art supplies that are provided for free to try their own hand. Art and history exhibitions are also on display at the Burlingham House Visitor Center.
Weir Farm is located at 735 Nod Hill Road in Wilton, Connecticut. The National Historic Site is open Wednesdays through Sundays in the summer months, and Thursdays through Sundays from November to April. National Park Service rangers are on hand for tours at various times throughout the day.