Wednesday, April 11, 2012

…isms: Unlocking Art’s Mysteries - Florence Griswold Museum Old Lyme, CT

…isms: Unlocking Art’s Mysteries
(Florence Griswold Museum 96 Lyme Street, Old Lyme, CT 06371 860-434-5542 through June 10, 2012 ) examines 100 works of American art and culture from the 18th to the 21st centuries to explain art movements and styles. The exhibition is perfect for non museumgoers as an introduction to these stylistic concepts. Seasoned art lovers will enjoy testing their knowledge and learning about the larger historical contexts that have informed artists’ work. The exhibition fosters a richer appreciation of familiar objects from the collection as well as introduces new acquisitions and selected loans.

While some “isms” began as official movements initiated by artists, many, such as Impressionism or Tonalism, acquired their names from critics who recognized new developments in art and coined terms to describe them. Occasionally, as in the case of Luminism, these labels were not assigned until a century later, when art historians discerned, in hindsight, qualities of light and mood shared by American landscape paintings of the mid-to-late nineteenth century.

The air of serenity, glassy water, and spiritual light effects in John F. Kensett’s Fort Dumpling, Rhode Island (1871) identify it as a Luminist painting. Some “isms” describe trends specific to the visual arts, such as Academicism. Other “isms,” such as Romanticism, reflect broad cultural trends that were explored not only in the visual arts, but also in literature, music, and theater. Often, works of art embody the characteristics of more than one “ism.” By asking how different works embody the traits of a particular “ism” this exhibition demonstrates that these stylistic categories are by no means rigid.

…isms: Unlocking Arts Mysteries
examines a range of “isms,” including Neoclassicism, Romanticism, Historicism, Luminism, Tonalism, Japonisme, Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, and Realism.

Neoclassicism is one of the most evergreen of the “isms.” As early as the fourteenth century, a desire to revive the excellence of Greek and Roman art, with its emphasis on figural sculpture, produced the cultural flourishing known as the Renaissance—the first episode of neoclassicism. In the late 1700s and early 1800s, a wave of political revolutions in Europe and America fostered an admiration for Greek democracy and Roman republicanism that encouraged a new round of neoclassicism. Early American architecture and decorative arts, like the examples in this exhibition, incorporate forms and motifs derived from classical forbears.

In the late nineteenth century, a more concentrated Renaissance Revival produced works like George deForest Brush’s neoclassical depictions of women and children. Styles, then, can emerge at a particular moment in time, but also reappear in subsequent eras, broadening and changing the definition of the “ism” each time. While examples of Tonalism and Impressionism can be seen in the gallery, visitors may investigate these two movements further in the Florence Griswold House, where two additional galleries display Tonalist and Impressionist paintings by members of the Lyme Art Colony.

In the 20th century, “isms” flourished with the birth of new art movements seeking to express the modern spirit. A diversity of approaches characterizes Modernist works, such as Harry Holtzman’s Red, Orange, Green, and Yellow. Holtzman’s abstract painting, a new acquisition, embodies an interest in line and color, a return to the fundamentals of art shared by many Modernist works. This exhibition seeks to prove that “isms” are dynamic concepts and that by identifying their traits we can develop a broader appreciation for artists’ stylistic decisions.

More isms:

Frederic E. Church, The Charter Oak at Hartford, ca. 1846. Oil on canvas.
Gift of The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company.


Thomas Watson Ball, Chinese Twilight. Oil on canvas. Gift of the Trustees and
Director in honor of Tony and Sandy Thurston for their lasting devotion to the

Harry Hoffman, Bridging the Lieutenant, ca. 1906. Oil on canvas board, 16 x 14 inches. Florence Griswold Museum, Gift of Mrs. Morris Joseloff