The Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, an outstanding museum!

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Thomas Chambers, Niagara Falls, c 1843-60

There is something extraordinarily exciting about discovering a museum you have heard so much about and wanted to stop by for years. I finally made it to the Wasdworth Atheneum museum in Hartford, Ct. on a very rainy day while driving from Boston to Warren. It was the perfect halt especially since the restaurant has a warm and excellent atmostphere and I could eardrop on the conversation of a fascinating Spanish erudite and a member of the museum staff…

Andy Warhol, Robert Mapplethorpe, 1983

My first encounter was with two Warhol paintings including a portrait of Robert Mapplethorpe which pleased me as much as the short exhibition of « Three Neons/Three Decades »  by Keith Sonnier, a charming Louisiana neon artist whom I knew well in the 70’s, in New York. His « Sel series » refers to Chinese  calligraphy and is very intriguing. A good portrait by Kehinde Wiley,  whom I recently discovered at Petit Palais was a nice addition to the collection of contemporary art which includes  Bill Viola’s extraordinary « Ascension » video, a Sol Lewitt painted staircase and many Jackson Pollock, Robert Rauschenberg, etc…

The Grande Gallery is lined with chefs d’oeuvres from Italy, Holland and France

Thomas Sully, Daniel Wadsworth, 1807. He founded the museum with a collection of over seventy paintings

But it is mostly for its founder Daniel Wadsworth’s collection of American art and later European acuqisitions that one visits the museum. With its grande galerie  showing Caravaggio, Hubert Robert, Poussin, Velazquez, Goya, Corot, Le Nain, Cranach and Guardi paintings from ground to ceiling, the museum is reminiscent of Duc d’Aumale’s collections in Chantilly. With its many galleries of 18 th to 20 th century European art, the museum, a member of FRAME, is one of the greatest surprises of New England.

Keith Sonnier, “Expanded Sel IV”, 1979

Hartford used to be famous and wealthy for its insurance companies and it is now a very quiet town with a good university, Trinity college. There are three sides to the museum, the old Wadsworth, the Morgan and the Avery and it is easy to miss some rooms for the buildings do not always communicate. Don’t skip the decorative arts section with the bed rug from 1802 made in Lebanon, Ct, the Frank Lloyd Wright chair and desk from 1936  and the “Vase de l’Adour” from Sèvres, 1917 with frogs swimming.

Norman Rockwell, The young lady with the Shiner, 1953

 The museum is as diverse as the Louvre or the Metropolitan : you can find Japanese and French ceramics, Italian glass from Murano, early American carpets and furniture, a large gun collection from the 19 th century and German silver from Augsburg. There are 50 000 works of art and huge eclecticism including Egyptian and Greek sculptures and good modern art.

The courtyard of the Morgan wing

 So make a point of stopping if you drive nearby. The museum is two minutes from the motorway exit and the experience is sublime! (1hr40 from Boston, 2 hrs from New York)

Ferdinand Danton, Jr, Time is money, 1894

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3 Comments on “The Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, an outstanding museum!”

  1. I love this fascinating museum that I discovered some … 50 years ago and visited again a few years ago : They do keep an outstanding collection of works + costumes on “Les Ballets russes” – an important nucleus being from Serge Lifar. But they are not on permanent display, one has to make an appointment with the curatorial staff.

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