The Harpist: A Portrait of a LadyFox Chase

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Painted when Florence Griswold was 53 years old, The Harpist represents the new woman she had become. Raised as a sea captain’s daughter in a grand house in a prosperous river town, in 1903 she was unmarried and childless, running a boardinghouse for artists. Her closest relative was an older sister who was in a mental health institution in Hartford.

 

Nevertheless, she looks out from behind her golden harp (an extravagant gift brought back from London by her father), her large dark eyes reflecting a watery glint suggesting a dreamy sadness. Dressed in white Victorian ruffles decorated with a chaste brooch, her delicate fingers are poised on the harp strings as she prepares to play. Despite her ever-present financial troubles, she was always looking towards the future and would tell her artist boarders, “I’m going to have a wonderful season this summer. I’m going to make a lot of money. Next winter I’m going to fix up the house.”

Jongers sold the portrait to George A. Hearn, an important New York collector, and it hung in the galleries of the Metropolitan Museum of Art as part of the Hearn Collection. Years later, a group of artists representing the Lyme Art Association acquired it at auction. It was featured in the Art Association’s inaugural show in 1921 (most fitting since Florence had sold them their property and was the Association’s first manager). The painting was given to the Florence Griswold Museum and accessioned into the collection in the 1950s.

  • Stringless though it was, it seemed to speak to her in sweet melodious strains of all that was beautiful and sacred in her girlhood days. They say that in her earlier years, when life was all a golden dream, she played divinely upon that very harp, though now no one would ever imagine that that ancient wreck had every thrilled the soul of a lover

    Artist and Author Arthur Heming in his unpublished manuscript, The Lions in the Lady’s Den

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Florence Griswold in meadow


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William Chadwick (1879-1862)
Melodies, c. 1905
Oil on panel


alphonse_05William Chadwick (1879-1862)
Front Parlor, Florence Griswold House, c. 1905-08
Oil on canvas

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Harp, 1855
Wood, gesso, with gilding
Made by J. Pitt Lewis & Co., London, England


1982

Florence Griswold (1850-1937)
“Moonlight,” 1905
Gouache on paper
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Norman Legassie
On rare occasions, Miss Florence would also play the role of the artist.


 

  • In her delicate and high-bred way Miss Florence had her part in fostering an authentic American art. Fortunately, her painters painted her again and again, and many a down-at-heel artist left on her walls panels on other subjects signed by names that were to become distinguished. So the memory of this gracious and generous spirit survives, and not in Griswold House alone but as part of no inconsiderable chapter of our native art.

    Artist Arthur Heming in his manuscript Miss Florence and the Artists of Old Lyme, c. 1938