Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Metcalf Blooms Eternal

While our new exhibition In Bloom: Mountain Laurel and the Lyme Art Colony celebrates a flower that has yet to make an appearance in nature this season, Willard Metcalf's painting Dogwood Blossoms, seen in the detail above, captures a different fleeting springtime moment, one that is now gone for another season. The dogwood on the campus of the Florence Griswold Museum (below) was last week's outdoor "exhibition," so to speak.

The Boston Herald noted both the "fresh young blossoms" and the "fresh young girls" in a November 1906 review making mention of the dogwood painting. In this detail we see Metcalf's aspiring Impressionist brushwork as he reduces the delicate blossoms, as well as the face of the woman, to thinly applied smudges of color. Compared to other painted details we've examined in this series, Metcalf's handling is sparing and dry, with the weave of the canvas clearly visible.

Though Metcalf frequently dated his paintings, marking the year they were completed, we can actually construct an even more precise chronology of his work based on the blooming cycle of his subjects. Metcalf made his dogwood painting in the spring of 1906, the season after he painted the FGM's latest Metcalf acquisition Kalmia, a work featuring an explosion of mountain laurel blossoms along the marshy Lieutenant River. (You can read more about Kalmia here.) In 1905, he also painted The Poppy Garden while visiting in Old Lyme. If you stroll through our historic gardens behind the Griswold House this weekend you'll find the poppies haven't bloomed yet, but are not far off. With dogwood, mountain laurel, and poppies to occupy him, late May and early June must have been an incredibly busy time for Metcalf.

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