September 30, 2017-January 28, 2018

World War I and the Lyme Art Colony

World War I and the Lyme Art Colony

To commemorate the centennial of America’s participation in the First World War, the Florence Griswold Museum will present the exhibition World War I and the Lyme Art Colony. The exhibition will draw on the Museum’s permanent collection and selected loans from public and private collections to illuminate the significant role played by artists with ties to Connecticut in mobilizing public sentiment for America’s entry into the war and in defining a new role for art in the field of modern warfare.

When America joined the Great War on the side of England and France in 1917, Connecticut’s artists met the call. Members of the Lyme Art Colony, such as Everett Warner and Charles Bittinger, participated in the camouflage program, developing new schemes to protect ships from enemy fire, and Connecticut artists such as Louis Orr served in the French Army. Images by Connecticut artists such as Orr and Walter Griffin, who both spent the war years in France, or Edmund Greacen (who traveled there in 1918) recorded the destruction of French landmarks, eliciting support from Americans at home for the allies’ efforts. Responding to mounting sentiment that favored the United States’ entry into the war, Childe Hassam created his now legendary paintings of New York City draped in Allied flags as celebrations of American patriotism, international cooperation, and the modern vitality that would help decide the conflict. While Connecticut artists’ direct depictions of the theater of war were less numerous than those of European artists embroiled in the conflict over several years, these American artists emphasized in their depictions of the homeland the values for which their country would be fighting. Particularly in Old Lyme, landscape views and depictions of small-town New England during these years did not avoid the war but rather attested to what Americans sought to preserve. At the same time, artists such as Lucien Abrams, who had made their way home to the US during the last moments of peace in 1914, brought with them to Connecticut contemporary European modes of painting that gradually enlarged the artistic perspective and kept French artistic accomplishments alive in America during the war.

As the letter to him from the Secretary of the Navy expresses, George Hand Wright played an important part in the war effort. His sketches for popular magazines document the transformation America underwent in its mobilization for war, and his poster and billboard designs motivated enlistments. Wright was even among a group of eight artists selected in the spring of 1918 for commissions in the Engineering Reserve Corps of the American Expeditionary Force to travel to France to create battlefield images for the Pictorial Division. With his keen eye for characters and for humorous situations, Wright brought his skills as an illustrator to bear on the all-consuming subject of the war, which permeated American culture.

Archival materials and photographs will offer context for these artists’ activities, documenting their participation in the war effort and their navigation of its aftermath.

Childe Hassam, To the 101st (Massachusetts) Infantry,
1918. Oil on canvas, 25 x 30 inches, Collection of Jonathan L. Cohen