PART VII. TWENTIETH CENTURY

 

 

The post-Civil War period was dominated by the problems of the growing concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few men. The at least partial solution to this problem arose out of progressivism, which was a liberal conservative movement. Proponents of this philosophy believed in the new industrial order, but realized that government had to take a more active role in regulating some of the more flagrant abuses. The new era started with the Presidency of Theodore Roosevelt and lasted through the Presidencies of William Howard Taft and Woodrow Wilson. It ended in a wave of post-World War I conservatism.

Before the era ended, however, the progressives accomplished many reforms. Perhaps one of the most important was the introduction of the federal, progressive income tax, which eventually made it impossible for most people of wealth to afford the kinds of mansions one sees along the Hudson River or in Newport, Rhode Island. Other democratic reforms were also introduced, such as the initiative, referendum, direct primary, and popular recall of elected officials.

The Progressive spirit is reflected in the art of the American impressionists, who concentrated on more everyday subjects. In this sense it was a democratic art reflecting the more democratic mood of the country. Chapter 30 explores American impressionism at Old Lyme.

After the end of World War I, as is usual following a war, the people of the United States turned away from world affairs to concentrate on their own personal and family concerns. Fortunately, the immediate post-war period was one of considerable affluence. Disillusionment with world affairs combined with money to spend produced an era of disillusioned play called the Jazz Age.

The desire to return to "normalcy" was one reason for the popularity of the honest, but null personality, President Calvin Coolidge. We visit his home in Northampton, Massachusetts. Calvin was a family man and no great reformer and that is precisely what the electorate wanted. Coolidge eased up on the progressive income tax. Consequently, the wealthy could afford to continue building huge mansions.

The turn inwards to dwell on private concerns is nicely illustrated in the life of our nation's greatest playwright, Eugene O'Neill. Even his involvement with the radical political forces of the time stemmed from his attempts to deal with his personal past. However, O'Neill was also a bit of the radical and he spans the period from the Jazz Age to the increasing radicalism of the 1930s and 1940s that resulted from the agony brought about by the Great Depression. We visit O'Neill's childhood home in New London, Connecticut, to learn more about this fascinating person.

The United States came out of the Great Depression partly through the governmental programs instituted under President Franklin D. Roosevelt (elected in 1932, 1936, 1940, and 1944) and partly through the war economy following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. Roosevelt was able to institute the beginnings of a modern welfare state, but this new type of society was never strong. The South especially started to opt out of the welfare state as soon as Roosevelt started to improve the situation for African-Americans. Following the death of President Roosevelt in 1945, Vice-President Truman became president. He was elected on his own merits to the office in the presidential election of 1948. Truman wanted to continue Roosevelt's liberal policies, but was especially hampered by Southern opposition. The South had begun its slow but inexorable switch from the Democratic party to the Republican party for its choice in presidential elections.

Much of the architecture and interior decoration during the Progressive Era can be seen as a continuation of the American Renaissance Movement. In architecture there was a return to more traditional styles: the Georgian Revival, Dutch Colonial, and Spanish Colonial. Architectural innovations included the prairie and natural houses of Frank Lloyd Wright and the emphasis on curves in Art Nouveau.

Important trends centered around the building of skyscrapers. The architectural style most congruent with the Jazz Age was the sleek "modernity" of Art Deco. The name came from l'Exposition des Arts Decoratifs, a decorative-arts show held in Paris in 1925. The emphasis in Art Deco is on geometric sleekness with Aztec and Egyptian art frequently incorporated. Such famous skyscrapers as New York City's Empire State and Chrysler Buildings are in this style.

The use of the term "Modern Era" includes not only the Post- World War II period, but the Great Depression as well. The Stock Market Crash of 1929 and its aftermath seriously weakened the optimistic faith of the progressives and conservatives that the economic system could automatically balance itself if just left alone. In response to the ugly reality of one-third of the nation's work force being unemployed, legislators created ad-hoc measures, such as unemployment insurance, social security, welfare, and food allotments, that eventually laid the foundations for the modern welfare state. The welfare state is committed to intervening in the economic sphere to insure that individuals are guaranteed at least a minimum standard of living and comfort.

Following the end of the Second World War, the population of the United States became conservative. They elected Republican Dwight David Eisenhower twice to the presidency, once in 1952 and again in 1956.

Starting with World War II, the United States took on a much more active role in world affairs. And with this involvement came many wars. These wars can be partially traced when visiting the New England Air Museum at the Bradley Airport north of Hartford. Here are planes from World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.

Although the people of the United States were rather conservative, the architecture of the period was rather daring. Chapter 26 visits the modern architecture of New Haven to explore the new trends.

The year 1960 marks the end of the conservative post-war era in the United States. This year saw the election of John F. Kennedy to the presidency. The Kennedy years sparkled of great optimism and high expectations. Many of the goals of the Kennedy administration were accomplished under the presidential terms of Lyndon Baines Johnson, who took over after Kennedy's assassination. Unfortunately, then came the Vietnam War and Johnson saw his dreams collapse amid soaring costs of war abroad and increasing dissension at home.

The social accomplishments of the Kennedy/Johnson years led to a backlash against civil rights and welfare state reforms. The president to first embody this reaction was Republican Richard M. Nixon, elected in 1968. Nixon began a stream of relatively conservative presidents in the nations. After Nixon's resignation over the Watergate political scandals, Vice-President Gerald Ford became the president. Tainted by Watergate, the Republicans lost the White House to a Democrat, Jimmy Carter, a former governor of Georgia. However, Carter was also a relatively conservative president. Continuing the conservative trend, the American people elected very conservative Republican Ronald Reagan twice, 1980 and 1984. The electorate then chose Vice-President George Herbert Walker Bush as president in the 1988 election. The final chapter of this book takes a look at the President's career.

CHAPTER 24. AMERICAN IMPRESSIONISM AT OLD LYME

The last time we mentioned American landscape painting it was solidly dominated by the romantic tradition of the Hudson River School. Among the first deviations from this dominant tradition was that of luminism, which flourished between 1850 and 1875. The luminists emphasized the use of light, almost in a mystical way. Among the artists in this vein were John Kensett, Sanford Gifford, Fitz Hugh Lane, and Martin J. Heade.

When the French delved into naturalistic landscape painting their artists, like the luminists, experimented with different lighting conditions. The French school of landscape painting, known as the Barbizon School, began in the late 1830s with the works of Rousseau and Daubigny. French Impressionism developed from the Barbizon School. The style began around 1870 and included such artists as Manet, Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, and Degas. The aim of these artists was to capture the transitory appearance of things, especially the effects of light and atmosphere.

In turn, the American luminists and the French Barbizon School influenced the development of a native American Impressionism. Such artists as George Inness, Alexander Wyant, Homer Martin, and Winslow Homer all painted in this style. In 1886 Paul Durand-Ruel presented an exhibition of French paintings in the United States. Previous to this exhibition there was very little opportunity in America to see the works of the French Impressionists. Among the first American artists to adopt the French Impressionist style were Mary Cassatt and Theodore Robinson.

In December 1897, Childe Hassam, J. Alden Weir, and John Twachtman resigned from the Society of American Artists. They were joined by seven other painters. These artists were dissatisfied with the few opportunities they received to present their works. They also thought the Society of American Artists as an organization had become too conservative and stuffy. The press soon dubbed the group "The Ten," taken from the artists sign "Show of Ten American Painters." These ten artists became the leaders of the American impressionist movement. The original ten were John Twachtman, Thomas Dewing, Willard Metcalf, Reid, Childe Hassam, J. Alden Weir, Frank Benson, Joseph Rodefer De Camp, Edmund C. Tarbell, and Edward Simmons. When Twachtman died the group elected William Merritt Chase to take his place.

Florence Griswold House
96 Lyme Street, Old Lyme, Connecticut (Open Tues-Sat 10-5, Sun 1-5, June-Oct; Wed-Sun 1-5, Nov-May)

The home of the slightly mad Florence Griswold in Old Lyme, Connecticut became a summer home to American Impressionist painters in one of the earliest summer art colonies in America. Built in 1817 the designer of this late Georgian house was architect Samuel Belcher. Captain Robert Griswold bought the house in 1841. The captain had been prosperous man, but upon his death his wife and daughters desperately needed money. So they opened a finishing school in the house. Unfortunately, it was never very successful.

The art colony here began with Henry Ranger in 1899. Ranger is considered one of the American pre-impressionists. He studied in Holland and France and came under the influence of the Barbizon painters. Back in the United States he looked for a place to set up a similar school of "plein air" painting and he chose Old Lyme--and more specifically, the Florence Griswold House.

At that time only Florence still survived. She charged her boarders $9 dollars a week for room and board. Over the next twenty years, a total of about eighty different artists came here. Florence was usually in debt because she often lent the artists money. The house was usually cluttered as she was a poor house keeper. This was in keeping with the chaotic atmosphere of the artists who loved to engage in practical joking. Ranger brought to Old Lyme such artists as Lewis Cohen, Alphonse Jongers, and Henry Rankin Poore. Later came the artists Frank Bicknell, George Bruestle, Bruce Crane, Louis Paul Dessar, Frank Dumond, Will Howe Foote, William Howe, William Robinson, Jules Turcas, Henry White, and Carleton Wiggins.

In 1903 Childe Hassam, a member of "The Ten," came to Old Lyme. Here he taught the artists the new French Impressionist techniques. Willard Metcalf, another member of "The Ten," also came to the Griswold house.

The artists had little money and to show their appreciation for Miss Florence's support they would decorate a wainscot or a door panel in the house. Do not miss the painting over the dining room mantel by Henry Rankin Poore, called "The Fox Hunt," which caricatures many of the artists at Old Lyme in the early 1900s. On a panel in the dining room, an artist has painted one of the facades of the house. In all there about fifteen to twenty paintings in the house. The upstairs area serves as an art gallery displaying some of the works of the artists. Woodrow Wilson, then president of Princeton University, and his family spent the summers of 1905, 1909, and 1910 at Miss Florence's, so that Mrs. Wilson could study landscape painting under Frank Vincent DuMond.

Hassam painted "The Church at Old Lyme" series, the most well known of his many landscapes. The series did a great deal to popularize the colony and persuade other artists to try their hand at the same subject. The original church burned in 1907. It was rebuilt and dedicated in 1910.

Hassam stopped exhibiting in Old Lyme in 1914. This started the long process of decline for the art colony. Miss Florence lived in the house until her death in 1937. The Florence Griswold house is now mainly an art museum where the visitor can see many of the works of the artists discussed here.

An interesting footnote to this story involves a collection of French Impressionist art at the Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington, Connecticut (entrances on both Farmington Avenue and Mountain Road, Farmington). This museum is the former home of Alfred A. Pope. Mr. and Mrs. Pope boarded their daughter, Beatrice Pope, at the Florence Griswold house to insure that she be kept away from men (her mother not knowing the house was crawling with male artists). Beatrice met and fell in love with artist Harry L. Hoffman. The two married and Hoffman's mother-in-law built the newlyweds a house on a nearby hill, of which the couple were particularly fond.

In 1901 Theodate Pope worked with Stanford White to design the Hill-Stead home for her parents. Alfred Pope was the founder and first president of the Cleveland Malleable Iron Company. The house was in part used to house his collection of French Impressionist paintings as well as other art objects. The father died in 1913. Theodate was one of the lucky survivors of the torpedoing of the "Lusitania" in 1915. The following she married John Wallace Riddle, a former U.S. Ambassador to Russia. Theodate was a cousin of modern architect Philip Johnson. She designed Westover School for Girls and Avon Old Farms School for boys. She died in 1946. Just north of Farmington, visit the Avon Old Farms School (1927), not only build by, but financed by, Theodate. The massive walls of red sandstone were designed to be part of her "indestructible school for boys." The building was done according to seventeenth century building methods.

Lyme Art Gallery
90 Lyme Street (Open Tues-Sat 10-5, Sun 1-5, Jun-Sep; Wed-Sun 1-5, Oct-May)

In 1914 the artists created the Lyme Art Association. They later decided to construct their own art gallery. The result was this building, designed by Charles A. Platt, and officially opened in the summer of 1921. The Depression finally ended the art colony, but its spirit lives on in this gallery.

Other Sites

See the chapter on railroads to take the steam train ride in Essex, Connecticut. Also see the chapter dealing with Essex.

When in the Greenwich, Connecticut area stop and see the Holly Farm (located at 39 Strickland Road, I-95 Exit 4, Cos Cob). Known as the Bush-Holley House, this c. 1685 home, originally a colonial saltbox, was home to an Impressionist art colony around the turn-of-the-century. Among the painters that stayed here in the summer was J. Alden Weir. Other visitors were the painters Alfred Q. Collins and Henry Fitch Taylor, as well as Twachtman, Hassam, and Robinson. Also visiting here were the writers Willa Cather and Lincoln Steffens. There are period furnishings, local history, and John Rodgers statuary.

 

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