The National Academy Museum and School of Fine Arts

New York, NY



The Cos Cob Art Colony: Impressionists on the Connecticut Shore

February 14 - May 13, 2001


From 1890 until about 1920, the Cos Cob section of Greenwich, Connecticut, was the site of a lively art colony. There, John Henry Twachtman, Theodore Robinson, Childe Hassam, and J. Alden Weir participated in shaping American Impressionism. Cos Cob in the 1890s was as important to them as Argenteuil in the 1870s had been to Monet, Renoir, and Manet. It was their testing-ground for new styles, new themes, and, for Hassam at least, new media.

This first fully documented analysis of one of America's oldest, pre-eminent art colonies will feature more than sixty works by twelve artists, including Twachtman, Hassam, Robinson, and Weir. During the art-colony period, Greenwich was changing from a farming and fishing community to a prosperous suburb of New York. Keenly aware of those changes, the artists who gathered in Cos Cob produced work that reflects the underlying tensions between tradition and modernity, nature and technology, and country and city. While depiction of popular subjects such as colonial houses, contemplative women, and quiet landscapes were quite commonplace at the time, exhibition curator Susan G. Larkin maintains that the artists of Cos Cob treated these subjects with unusual acuity and depth. (left: John Twachtman, Hemlock Pool, c. 1900, oil on canvas, 30 x 25 inches, Collection of Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA)

Painting along the Mianus River, Theodore Robinson's treatment of the nautical landscape in transition, for example, ranges in subject from the gleaming pleasure craft near the stylish new Riverside Yacht Club, to the battered commercial vessels around the old shipyard. Rife with nuances, the somber palette, compressed space, and foreshortening techniques employed in his treatment of a dilapidated freighter in The E. M. J. Betty (1894), stands in marked contrast with the expansive, high vistas, and keyed palettes of The Anchorage, Cos Cob (1894). While executed the same year, the later painting suggests the artist's exhilaration with the trappings of modern leisure, while the former indicate his melancholy over the passing of traditional ways.

In order to further distinguish the many ways in which each artist imbued the commonplace, Dr. Larkin has organized the exhibition into four thematic sections: The Nautical Landscape; Images of Cos Cob's Architecture; Familiar Faces; and Familiar Places. Archival photographs, maps, and other materials will help visitors identify with the subjects the artists chose and the social context within which they lived and worked.

While the environmental experience changed, the art colony's enthusiasm for experimentation was a constant defining characteristic. Many artists adopted techniques found in Japanese art including an attention to pattern, use of flattened shapes, and unusual composition as demonstrated in works including Hassam's Bowl of Goldfish (1912), and Weir's In the Shade of a Tree (1894). Among the surprises offered by the exhibition is Twachtman's rarely exhibited Barnyard (1915), in which the artist adapted conventions from European religious painting in a view of his young daughter feeding chickens and doves. (left: Childe Hassam, Bowl of Goldfish, 1912, oil on canvas, 25 1/8 x 30 1/4 inches, Collection of Ball State University Art Gallery, Muncie, Indiana)

Because Hassam used several of his sojourns in Cos Cob to experiment with pastel, watercolor, and etching, the exhibition is distinguished by a remarkable group of his works on paper. Hassam depicted The Old Brush House, a pre-Revolutionary cottage in Cos Cob, in a sun-drenched pastel of 1902. Fifteen years later, he portrayed it in watercolor, capturing the dappled sunlight on the ramshackle building in luminous veils of color. During a visit to Cos Cob in 1915, Hassam turned seriously to etching for the first time. In a brilliant suite of images, including The Steps, he translated the Impressionist concern with light to the black-and-white medium.


The Art Colony

The Cos Cob art colony's focal point was the Holley family's boardinghouse, a rambling old saltbox overlooking the small harbor. (Now known as the Bush-Holley House, it is a museum operated by the Historical Society of the Town of Greenwich. See our earlier article concerning the Bush-Holly Historic Site) The diversity of the group that gathered at the Holley House contributed to the art colony's experimental atmosphere. Painters exchanged ideas with writers including novelist Willa Cather, muckraking journalist Lincoln Steffens and political commentators, essayists, and humorists. The art students who attended Twachtman's summer classes provided a steady infusion of youthful energy. One of them, the Japanese artist Genjiro Yeto, was a personal link to the culture the Impressionists of Cos Cob deeply admired.

"In their diversity and dynamism," Dr. Larkin writes, "the quiet rebels of the Holley House formed a bohemian enclave of avant-garde art and progressive politics within the larger community." At first, the art colonists held aloof from the newcomers who were buying up old farms and transforming the community into a suburb. Eventually, however, the artists recognized the growing population of affluent suburbanites as potential patrons. In 1912, they tapped that market by forming the Greenwich Society of Artists, which mounted annual exhibitions at the then-new Bruce Museum.

On the national level, several members of the art colony, notably Elmer Livingston MacRae and Henry Fitch Taylor, were among the principal organizers of the Armory Show, the landmark exhibition that, in 1913, introduced European modernism to a vast American audience. Twachtman and Robinson had died by then, but they were among the five Americans presented as precursors of modernism. Twachtman's Hemlock Pool (ca. 1900), which was exhibited at the Armory Show, is one of the highlights of The Cos Cob Art Colony.


Travel dates

June 17 to September 16, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

October 27 to January 20, 2002, Denver Art Museum


Book to accompany the exhibition

Yale University Press on the occasion of the exhibition will publish a richly illustrated book -- the first devoted to the art colony. The Cos Cob Art Colony: Impressionists on the Connecticut Shore by Susan G. Larkin is the long-awaited history and analysis of this influential artistic enclave. Drawing on maritime history, garden design, contemporary literature, women's studies, and more, Dr. Larkin places the art colony in context and reveals unexpected depths in paintings of enormous popular appeal. With 78 color and 67 black-and-white illustrations.



"Painting Among Friends: American Art Colonies, 1890 - 1920." April 7, 2001, 9:30 a.m. - 1:30 p.m. Huntington Room, National Academy of Design's School of Fine Arts, 5 East 89th Street. Speakers will be Dr. William H. Gerdts, Dr. Susan G. Larkin, Dr. Jeffrey Andersen, Kathleen Kienholz, and Dr. Thomas Wolf. Admission:

Read a review on the exhibition by Carter B. Horsley with six images in The City Review

rev. 12/20/00, 5/14/01

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For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

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This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 4/27/11

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