Friday, April 17, 2009

Visions of Mood - Henry C. White pastels

The Florence Griswold Museum
Home of American Impressionism
Old Lyme, CT

Lieutenant River,north, April 17, 2009, pastel sketch

Lieutenant River April 17,2009 pastel sketch

Fabriano paper

Daffodils, Andromeda and Rhododendron, Moleskine sketchbook
side lawn Florence Griswold Museum, Old Lyme, CT

It was a lovely spring day today and I took a ride over the the Florence Griswold Museum, in Old Lyme, CT. I wasn't really sure what the current exhibit was so I spent my first hour there photographing and sketching the waves of daffodils on the side lawn, not knowing what awaited me inside. Had I known I would have skipped the daffodils, as beautiful as they were.

As it happened today was the opening of Visions of Mood - Henry C. White , pastels, curated by Amy Kurtz Lansing, with corporate support from Bank of America.

Henry C. White (1861-1952) was a Connecticut native who grew up in Hartford, summered as a boy in my hometown of Clinton on the shore, and settled in Waterford.
Prior to this exhibit I was unfamiliar with White's work, and now I know how impoverished I was.

White is best known for his delicately colored tonalist oil paintings portraying fields and woods on the brink of seasonal change. This exhibit however focuses on his pastels exclusively, most of which are still owned by his family and have never been exhibited publicly before.
White's pastels vascillate between tonalist and impressionist sensibilities and exqusitely capture nature's shifting moods.

These achingly expressive, poetic landscapes touched me deeply. They are my own beloved , marshes, shoreline, fields and rivers. I have felt what White must have felt looking out at this landscape and trying to capture it on paper or canvas. I too have been mesmerized by their haunting beauty at twilight and healed by the renewing change in April from winter's death to springs life.

Sensitive in line work, harmonious and tranquil in coloration and tone, and satisfying in texture these works in pastel go far, far beyond the scope of a hasty field study. They are crafted with a passion for the landscape of Connecticut in a way I have never seen before.

White found in the landscape in and around Old Lyme, his "paysage intime", a phrase used in describing the Barbizon landscapes that gave viewers the experience of being immersed in nature along with a deep, resonating poetic mood.

An art critic from the Hartford Courant wrote of White's paintings in the 1912 "Exhibition of Landscapes at (the Wadsworth) Atheneum" "there is a mysticism, a haunting poetic quality that stirs the senses..." A New York critic wrote that White's pastels had a therapeutic effect on urban viewers describing them as an "escape...from the grind of town life". That is every bit as true today as it was then. For me that confirms the timelessness and universalityof White's work. Though his locations are very specific to this area of Connecticut the deeper underlying themes of his work touch us deeply.

Amy Kurtz Lansing, the very competant curator of the exhibit writes in the catalog that accompanies the show...

"For turn-of-the-century audiences seeking an emotional attachment to nature in an era of urbanization and industrialization, White's intimate landscapes answered a desire for authenticity."

I believe that we in 2009, are in much the same place as our turn-of-the-century relations. In a world of rapidly changing technology and environmental concerns we also desire an emotional attachment to nature and authenticity.

These are undercurrents in my own work today, and why I believe tonalist artists and works are gaining in popularity with each passing year.

I had brough my sketchbook and markers with me to sketch outdoors on the museum grounds, which I did before viewing the show. But I was so moved by White's pastels I went to the gift shop bought a Fabriano Quadrato Artist's Journal and a set of pastels (even though I already own at least 700 pastels!) and sat on the back porch of the museum and sketched the Lieutenant River which runs behind the museum. The results are what you see above.

If you go and see the exhibit ( and I hope you do!) buy a catalog. Rather than a monstorous, glossy hardback with a price that sends your wallet into shock the museum has put together a beautiful catalog with a cover and dustjacket made from warm gray textured paper similar to what pastellists use and inside lovely textured cream colored paper, 21 colored plates and very readable text.


painter63 said...

You must have painted in the morning, paths almost crossed; I painted the afternoon light on the Lieutenant. Daffodils and all.

'Twas an amazing day on sacred ground. Love it when the laurel breaks even more so. Think of Childe Hassam's tender painting, "June".

Jan Blencowe said...


Holy Cow! I was unceremoniously plunked down on the grass sketching daffodils from about 2:20till 3:20, then I went in to see the show, came out about 4:15 and sat on the bench on the porch around the side of the building and sketched the river until 4:45. Then I headed down the road to Iliano's Italian Resturant and had a wonderful glass of wine, soup, salad and fresh bread, while I purused the show catalog, and topped it off with a slice of chocolate cake!

How on earth did we miss each other! LOL

Maybe just two artists absorbed in their own little creative worlds and fully concentrating on what they'r doing!

I have a plein air one day workshop and we'll be painting on the museum grounds Aug 7th

Deborah Paris said...

Thanks for this introduction to Henry White, Jan. Was interested to see he studied with Dwight Tryon (another Tonalist whose work is being rediscovered).

Sounds like you had a lovely afternoon!

Jan Blencowe said...

Hi Deborah,

Yes, Tryon was his mentor and friend for many years. The show included a few of Tryon's pastels and oil paintings from both artists along with other Tonalists, Rook, and a few others.

It's interesting that White's pastels which he did for himself as sketches, experiments and many which he signed as finished works, but were mailny kept private really surpass his more formal oil paintings which he is better known for.

It was such a priviledge to see these works that were his personal records of his artistic growth.

I wish the show would travel to other museums so more people could see it.