February 1, 2023

Florence Griswold Museum Announces Major Art Acquisition

Kalmia by Willoard Metcalf

One of the highlights of the current exhibition Connecticut Treasures: Works from Private Collections is no longer privately held. The painting – a magnificent view of mountain laurel by the American Impressionist Willard Metcalf (1858-1925) – recently became one of the most significant collection additions the Florence Griswold Museum has made in its history.  It makes its debut in Connecticut Treasures as an example of how a work of art can, over generations, be held privately before entering a public collection like the Florence Griswold Museum.

Willard Metcalf painted Kalmia (which he named after Kalmia latifolia, the botanical name for mountain laurel) in 1905 during his first summer staying at Florence Griswold’s boardinghouse as part of the Lyme Art Colony.  Metcalf had only to walk just short distance from the Griswold property to capture on canvas this vista of the gentle Lieutenant River partially screened by a blossoming stand of mountain laurel along its banks.  For a few years the painting was seen in various exhibitions in New York and elsewhere to much acclaim.  Critics instantly recognized the painting’s significance:  “Willard Metcalf is at his best in Kalmia,” one wrote, “with its flowering bushes at the side of a stream, the delicacy of the pink and white blossoms being caught with tenderness and feeling, the result being a picture having much of the poetry of nature.” Perhaps inspired by this example, Metcalf’s artist contemporaries in Old Lyme made a practice of depicting mountain laurel. The flower not only became Connecticut’s state flower, but a key motif in American Impressionist paintings associated with Lyme.

Kalmia was eventually sold in the 1930s to a private family, who held it for over seventy years, transferring it from one generation to the next.  During this time, the painting remained largely unseen and forgotten by art historians until it was offered for sale to the Florence Griswold Museum.  With the help of a consortium of generous supporters, the Museum is nearing completion of a campaign to raise sufficient funds to acquire Kalmia as part of the permanent collection.  The painting joins what is today the largest public holding of Metcalf’s work, comprising oil paintings, pastels, drawings, and diaries representing each phase of the artist’s career, as well as Metcalf’s naturalist collection, a unique group of butterflies and bird eggs the artist gathered during his world travels.  In commenting on this acquisition, the Museum’s director Jeffrey Andersen exclaimed:  “What a find! Kalmia is a breathtakingly beautiful painting and without a doubt one of Metcalf’s most significant paintings from his years at the Lyme Art Colony.  We are thrilled to have the opportunity to acquire this painting for the public to enjoy for years to come.”  Andersen will be presenting a gallery lecture entitled “The Rediscovery of a Lost Masterpiece:  The Story Behind the Acquisition of Willard Metcalf’s Kalmia” on Wednesday August 18th at 6:30 p.m. at the Florence Griswold Museum.  The public is invited to attend this special program to learn more about this acquisition.