One of our favorite destinations in Old Lyme, Connecticut is the Florence Griswold Museum, home of the Lyme Art Colony, where Miss Florence's family homestead became a boardinghouse for artists which evolved into the center of Impressionism in America. The museum itself is a treasure, as is Miss Florence's Late Georgian style home, the lush gardens, the studios, and Café Flo where you can enjoy a meal overlooking the river after feasting your eyes on the art.
The story of Miss Florence Griswold is an interesting one; born on December 25, 1850, she was the youngest of four children of Captain Robert Griswold, a wealthy ship captain. She grew up in one of the finest and largest homes in Old Lyme, considered one of the finest examples of Late Georgian architecture in America, built in 1817 on a twelve-acre estate by the Hartford Connecticut architect Samuel Belcher (1779-1849), which her father purchased for his bride, Helen Powers, in 1841. However, after the financial downturn of the Civil War and the reversal of the family fortune, the Griswold's turned their mansion into a school, and later as a boarding house as a means of financial support.
Florence Griswold House
By the late 1890s, Miss Florence Griswold was the sole family member to maintain the family homestead. With limited finances, she continued to open her home for borders. Artist Arthur Heming wrote of his experience there as, "Already I could see she was a born hostess, with that lovely air and remarkable gift of making her guests feel it was their home, and she was visiting them."
Debra C. Argen walking through the gardens
As if in a dream, out of financial necessity, an important art colony was on the brink of formation. The first artist to arrive was New York artist Henry Ward Ranger in 1899 newly returned from Europe, who thought that Old Lyme would be an ideal setting for establishing a new American school of landscape painting. Word spread in the artist community and more artists came, and by 1903 "with the arrival of Childe Hassam, the focus of the art colony shifted from Tonalism to Impressionism and became the most famous Impressionist colony in America - the American Giverney."
We visited the museum and grounds in early June 2016 when the gardens were bursting with a plethora of stunning flowers, and the air was filled with fragrance. Pink, white, and fuchsia peonies, orange poppies, multi-colored irises, yellow day lilies, bleeding hearts, roses, and more in a riot of colors juxtaposed to various greenery that dazzled the eyes.
After feasting our eyes walking through the lush flower and herb gardens, we had a lovely lunch at Café Flo housed in the Marshfield House built in 1937, where we sat at an outside table overlooking the Lieutenant River. Apropos to the theme of the museum, an artist's palette serves as the menu where the offerings include a nice selection of starters, salads, sandwiches, and entrées. We had the Lobster BLT with house-made mayo, bacon, Bibb lettuce and sliced tomato on sour dough bread accompanied by chips, and the Griddled Corn Beef Sandwich on rye bread with house-made brined cabbage and Jarlsberg Swiss Cheese, both of which were delicious.
Café Flo Menu
During our visit, the main museum had a wonderful exhibition entitled, "The Artist's Garden, American Impressionism and the Garden Movement, 1997 - 1920." An artist's interest in gardening is to produce pictures without brushes, Anna Le Merritt observed in her 1908 book, An Artist's Garden, Tended, Painted. A painter and avid gardener Merritt appreciated the creative potential of mixing art-making with horticulture."
Florence Griswold Museum
We enjoyed strolling through the gallery and partaking of the "indoor gardens" in the form of paintings that touched the heart, stirred the imagination, and perhaps even acted as inspiration for gardeners who were visiting the museum.
Florence Griswold Bedroom
Another highlight was visiting Miss Griswold's home on a self-guided tour that enabled us to go at our pace and absorb the ambience and the culture of the art colony and the many artists who spent time there. The furnishings are inviting, as are the paintings gracing the walls, and the unique paintings on the door panels, and also in the dining room, make it a must for art-lovers. There are knowledgeable docents throughout the house to provide background into the unique lives of Miss Florence and the artists.
The Florence Griswold quote of 1937 before her death, best summarizes the importance of the art colony and describes the lasting impact that she had, and continues to have through her legacy, on the art world. "So you see, at first the artists adopted Lyme, then Lyme adopted the artists, and now, today, Lyme and art are synonymous."
There is much to explore at the museum which consists of the Robert & Nancy Krieble Gallery, Florence Griswold House, Hartman Education Center, William Chadwick Studio, Miss Florence's Grounds and Gardens, John and Dyanne Rafal Landscape Center, Marshfield House and Café Flo, and the Museum Shop, so allow several hours to fully experience all that the Florence Griswold Museum has to offer.
Edward F. Nesta taking time to "Smell the Roses"
Café Flo is open seasonally Tuesday through Thursday from 11:30 am - 2:30 pm, and on Sunday from 1:00 pm - 3:30 pm.
The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 am - 5:00 pm, and Sunday from 1:00 pm - 5:00 pm. Admission: Adult: $10, Senior: $9, Student: $8, Children 12 and under: Free. Admission covers entrance to the Griswold House and to the Krieble Gallery.
Enjoy Time in the Gardens
The Museum is closed New Year's Day, Easter Sunday, Memorial Day, July 4, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day.
Pull up a Chair and Relax by the River
See You at the Florence Griswold Musuem
Please visit their website, www.FlorenceGriswoldMuseum.org, for more information on upcoming exhibitions and special events.
Florence Griswold Museum
96 Lyme Street
Old Lyme, Connecticut 06371
For more information on visiting Connecticut, please visit the website, www.CTVisit.com.
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