Landscape With Stumps and Pond, by Ellen A. Wilson, ca. 1911-1912, oil.
This will be the first major retrospective in 20 years of an artist associated with great American painters like Frank Vincent DuMond, Frank Bicknell, George Brainerd Burr, Frederick W. Ramsdell, and Bessie Potter Vonnoh. The exhibition was organized by the Woodrow Wilson House in Washington, D.C., and brings together public and private collections that feature Wilson's landscapes of Old Lyme; Princeton, New Jersey; and Cornish, New Hampshire. The Florence Griswold Museum has customized the show with original scholarship and works from her Lyme Art Colony colleagues and provides an artistic context for her paintings and visual documentation of the Wilson family's role in the colony. Visitors will gain an understanding of the art colony experience, learning why and how the Wilsons became involved both in Connecticut and at other art colonies, such as Cornish.
Untitled landscape painting (view of Griswold House Back Porch), by Ellen A. Wilson. Courtesy The Florence Griswold Museum, Old Lyme, CT
New research into Woodrow Wilson's letters highlight Old Lyme's role within his political career. On the 100th anniversary of Wilson's 1912 election at the height of the 2012 election year, this timely exhibition tells the little-known history of one of America's first families and its extensive ties to the Lyme Art Colony.
The Life and Art of Ellen Axson Wilson
Ellen Axson Wilson was born in Savannah, Georgia, on May 15, 1860. A talented artist, Ellen won an award at age 18 for drawing at the International Exposition in Paris in 1878. At 23 she became engaged to Woodrow Wilson. While he was in his second year of graduate work in political science at Johns Hopkins University, she enrolled at the Art Students League in New York, where she studied under leading American artists of the day, including George de Forest Brush, Thomas W. Dewing, Frederick Warren Freer, and Julian Alden Weir. After her marriage to Woodrow in June 1885, Ellen immersed herself in establishing a home and raising a family in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and New Jersey, where Woodrow served as a professor and later president of Princeton University.
As her three daughters grew, she renewed her commitment to art. Beginning in 1905, she and her family traveled to Old Lyme in order for her to paint en plein air as a student of Will Howe Foote and later Frank Vincent DuMond. Among her fellow artists there were Childe Hassam, Willard Leroy Metcalf, Walter Griffin, William Chadwick, Chauncey Foster Ryder, William S. Robinson, and Robert Vonnoh. Like them, Ellen selected motifs such as the mountain laurel that blossomed along the banks of the Lieutenant River. The Wilsons and their daughters, Margaret, Jessie, and Nellie, befriended Florence Griswold and stayed at her boardinghouse. Returning to Old Lyme nearly every year, they became full-fledged members of the colony and treasured their associations with Old Lyme.
Ellen A. Wilson, on the left, with her three daughters (Jessie, Margaret, and Nell) on the south portico of the White House
Heavily influenced by American Impressionism, Ellen's work incorporates the themes, brushwork, color palette, and interest in plein-air painting that are hallmarks of the style. One of only a few female artists engaged in the movement at the time, Ellen remarkably balanced her artistic career with her duties as wife, mother, reformer, and First Lady.
The Art of First Lady Ellen Axson Wilson: American Impressionist was organized by the Woodrow Wilson House, a National Trust Historic Site, with generous support from the James Dicke Family. The Florence Griswold Museum exhibition is generously supported by Connecticut Humanities, Bouvier Champion Insurance, and the George A. and Grace L. Long Foundation. For more information, visit www.FlorenceGriswoldMuseum.org or call 860-434-5542, ext.111.