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Masterworks: Selections from the New Britain Museum of American Art

May 22 - October 3, 2004


[above Frederic Church (1826-1900), West Rock, New Haven, 1849, oil on canvas, 27 1/8 x 40 1/8 inches, John Butler Talcott Fund (1950.10)]


Drawn from the distinguished collections of the New Britain Museum of American Art, this exhibition will feature 67 paintings by America's greatest artists. The New Britain Museum of American Art, founded in 1903, is considered the first institution in the nation to focus exclusively on American art and, after one hundred years of steady growth, the collection numbers more than 5,000 works that span 250 years of American art history. The Hyde is the premier venue for the national tour for some of the NBMAA's major works during this construction. [right: Robert Henri (1865-1929), Spanish Girl of Segovia, 1912, oil on canvas, 40 3/4 x 33 1/8 inches, John Butler Talcott Fund (1941.7)]

The exhibition, much like the museum itself, will feature a representative selection of paintings from all major periods in American art history. Among the highlights include a fine selection of colonial and federal portraiture with striking examples by John Singleton Copley, Chester Harding, Sarah Miriam Peale and John Smibert. Breathtaking landscapes by Hudson River School luminaries Thomas Cole, Frederick Edwin Church and Thomas Moran will be on view as well as an exquisite selection of nineteenth century still lifes. The museum is particularly rich in works by American Impressionists and several outstanding examples will be on view including the masterpiece Au Jour du Grand Prix (1887) by Childe Hassam, considered his first major impressionist painting, and the dazzling work The Bird Cage (c. 1910) by Frederick Carl Frieseke, in addition to landscapes by Willard Metcalf, John Henry Twachtman, and J. Alden Weir. The Ash Can School is another area of strength in the New Britain's collection with exemplary paintings by Gifford Beal, George Bellows, Robert Henri, George Luks and John Sloan. Twentieth century modernism will also be well represented in the exhibition through a variety of works encompassing a range of styles by artists Milton Avery, Romare Beardon, Ilya Bolotowsky, Stuart Davis, Georgia O'Keefe, Robert Motherwell and Kay Sage.

ThIs exhibition is organized by the New Britain Museum of American Art.

As part of The Hyde Collection's comprehensive plan, Hyde House is closed due to extensive renovation efforts, but will reopen May 22, 2004. However, the remainder of the Museum complex remains open with special programming and exciting temporary exhibitions including Masterworks: Selection from the New Britain Museum of American Art, May 22 through October 3, 2004. [left: Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986), East River from the 30th Story of the Shelton Hotel, 1928, oil on canvas, 30 x 48 1/8 inches, Stephen B. Lawrence Fund (1958.9)]




Masterworks from the New Britain Museum of American Art

by Douglas Hyland, Director, New Britain Museum of American Art


The year 2003 marked the centennial of the New Britain Museum of American Art. Attracting some 50,000 visitors annually, the Museum is a cultural gem located next to historic Walnut Hill Park, designed by nationally known landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted.

The Museum traces its beginnings to the New Britain Institute which was chartered in 1853 to foster learning by means of its library and reading room to a community of newly arrived immigrants who would work in the city's numerous factories. In 1901 it moved from rented spaces to a new building in town that accommodated 75,000 volumes, a children's room, and a history room. The site also included a windowless "art room" in which portraits of prominent figures-both national and local-were displayed.

In 1903 former New Britain mayor and chairman of the Institute's building committee, John Butler Talcott, established the first purchase fund for "original modern oil paintings either by native or foreign artistsin the departments of art known as figure, landscape and genre subjects." Charged with making art acquisitions, the Library Committee sought advice from New York gallery owner William Macbeth -- whose gallery would be the site of the controversial urban realist exhibition of The Eight in 1908. Macbeth suggested the committee begin by collecting "backward and forward" (from colonial to contemporary) from their point in time from the John Butler Talcott Fund, which yielded $875.00 annually.

In 1928, the art room's first curator, Fanny J. Brown, began expanding the exhibition program to include current international art trends -- such as a display of contemporary French work -- to mixed critical review. As one local editorial read, the controversy of such exhibitions "will do yeoman's service in arousing the populace to a realization that we have art exhibits of such calibre in town that they are worth a clash of opinion. Miss Brown is holding high the torch of art interest in New Britain and we intend to encourage her." Further encouragement came in 1934 when a New Britain philanthropist left an endowment along with a stone mansion to the Institute. There the Art Museum of the New Britain Institute opened to the public on July 1, 1937.


"A Worthwhile Gallery of American Art"

In 1937 with its new, inherited space for its collection, the New Britain Institute further refined its collecting mission under the guidance of Robert Macbeth, the son of its first art advisor. Macbeth remarked that "New Britain already has more art interest than most cities of its size" and suggested a plan that would make "the Institute not a one-room collection of beautiful pictures, but a worth-while Gallery of American Art."

In addition to bolstering the collection with acquisitions of historical and educational significance, the Museum reinstated its ambitious loan exhibition program (which had slowed during the years of the Great Depression). The Museum also remained committed to local, emerging talent, annually exhibiting the work of artists in and from the area-the 1949 exhibition "Young Talent" showcased the work of Sol LeWitt, who was raised in New Britain. Less than a decade later, the 1957 show "Five Decades of Your Museum's Progress" highlighted the Museum's active exhibition program and burgeoning collection. As the Museum's director remarked, "It is felt that this exhibition in its entirety represents a great stride forward since the first painting was bought in 1908." In apparent agreement with this assessment of success, the trustees were confident enough to give the Museum a separate identity from the Institute, naming it the New Britain Museum of American Art.

The New Britain Museum of American Art continues to build on its successes. Facilities have expanded to include nineteen galleries, and its collection dating from 1740 to the present, has grown to approximately 5,000 works of art as a result of purchases and donations, including oils, drawings, prints, sculptures, photographs and illustrations. Exhibitions continue to strike a balance between the historic and the contemporary, emphasizing the importance of art's past and its relevance to the present. As one of the first institutions dedicated solely to American art, the New Britain Museum of American Art has and continues a vital role in shaping our understanding of the rich history of the nation's art and its dynamic relationship with community.

Today, after one hundred years of steady growth, the Museum collection numbers nearly 5,000 oils, watercolors, drawings, graphics and sculpture, spanning over 250 years of American art.

The visitor can experience an entire survey of our nation's art history from John Singleton Copley, Frederic Church, Thomas Cole, Georgia O'Keeffe, the Thomas Hart Benton murals, Arts of Life in America, and Sol LeWitt, to name a few. The collection is especially rich in American Impressionism. Mary Cassatt, William Merritt Chase, Theodore Robinson, Childe Hassam, John Henry Twachtman, Julian Alden Weir, Willard Metcalf, Frank Benson, Frederick Frieseke, Richard Miller, Arthur Clifton Goodwin, Ernest Lawson, Maurice Prendergast, and Guy Wiggins are all well represented.

Also of special interest to visitors is the Sanford B. D. Low Memorial Illustration Collection. Begun in 1964 and comprising more than 1,400 works, the Low Illustration Collection is the nation's first museum-based collection covering the history of American illustration from the 19th century to the present.

As it begins its second century, the New Britain Museum of American Art faces extraordinary challenges-to teach the next generation of Americans to appreciate and preserve the heritage that the collection represents and to create a facility worthy of the renowned collection. In response to this challenge, the Trustees have embarked on a capital fund drive for the future of the Museum. This will include expansion and renovation of our present facility, developing formal education programs for children, adults and families, conservation of our priceless collection, enhancing our operations, and building our endowment.

In 2000, Ann Beha Architects of Boston completed a Master Plan for the expansion of the Museum, which was adopted as a blueprint for future growth and as a focal point for development activity for years to come.

To date, over $19 million has been raised from over 175 donors towards the capital fund drive, which will provide money for a major expansion gallery and education space and increase the operating and acquisition endowments. The enormous success of the capital campaign allowed the Museum to break ground on October 28, 2003.

When complete in 2006, the expanded Museum will be better positioned to carry out its mission of drawing diverse segments of the community together in appreciating and understanding their common humanity through art.

We look back with pride on a century of achievement and forward with keen anticipation to the accomplishments yet to be achieved.

- Douglas Hyland, Director


Editor's notes:

readers may also enjoy:

Presentations on the Hudson River School; the Ashcan Artists [Link at http://americanart.si.edu/collections/exhibits/metlives/ found expired as of 10/15/12. TFAO is saving the citation for your reference], (The Eight); The Ten; and Modernism, an essay by Teta Collins from AskArt.

Also see:

American Landscape Art:
American Still Life Art:


In October, 2012 TFAO received a news release and images from Doris Meadows of the Nassau County Museum of Art for the exhibition "Artists in America: Highlights of the Collection from the New Britain Museum of American Art." While the word count did not allow for a separate article, excerpts from the news release and images are presented below to allow readers a comparison with the earlier exhibit at the Hyde Collection Art Museum held in 2004 plus further information about the New Britain Museum of American Art collection.

Artists in America: Highlights of the Collection from the New Britain Museum of American Art is on view at Nassau County Museum of Art in Roslyn Harbor, New York, from November 17, 2012, through February 24, 2013. The exhibition surveys 300 years of great American painting rarely seen on Long Island. Its 79 works dating from the early 1700s to the present include history painting, landscape, portraits, still life, and modernist abstraction with significant examples of photography, collage and other media. Major artists from every era of American art are on view, including John Singleton Copley, Charles Willson Peale, John Singer Sargent, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Edward Hopper, Georgia O'Keeffe, Norman Rockwell, Robert Motherwell and Sol LeWitt.  All works in the exhibition are selected from the permanent collections of the New Britain Museum of American Art in Connecticut. Nassau County Museum of Art's presentation of Artists in America is organized by Museum Director Karl Emil Willers, working with Deputy Director Fernanda Bennett, Assistant Curator Rhianna Lee Ellis, and the curatorial interns Andrea Chang, Faith Natalie Friedfeld, Brett Garde, Elizabeth Shaja and Danielle Sweeny.
Norman Rockwell's beloved paintings portray a wholesome, idealized America while Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton celebrate the rural and local, hard work and honest labor. Paintings from the Hudson River School by renowned artists Thomas Cole, Frederick Edwin Church and John Frederick Kensett focus on the sublime grandeur of American landscapes while American Impressionist painters Frederick Carl Frieseke and Theodore Robinson capture beautiful moments through sketchy brushstrokes, brilliant color, and ephemeral atmospheres. Influenced by European art movements of the early twentieth century, American Modernists including the Precisionist Charles Sheeler and Abstract Expressionist Adolph Gottlieb emphasize the industrial, the international, or the psychological through gesture, texture, surface, geometry, shape, form and color.  The work of contemporary artists Cindy Sherman, Rashaad Newsome and Radcliffe Bailey coalesce around the politics of feminism and sexual identity, the issues of multiculturalism and social reform, as well as concern for the environment and natural resources.

Please click here to see images related to the exhibition "Artists in America: Highlights of the Collection from the New Britain Museum of American Art."


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Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Hyde Collection Art Museum in Resource Library.

Search for more articles and essays on American art in Resource Library. See America's Distinguished Artists for biographical information on historic artists.

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