Jeff Cooley has built a reputation over the last thirty years as a dealer of American art with much of it being made or painted in Connecticut so you'd think having a show of his home state's art would be just another day at the office for this gallery owner.
"We've had exhibitions featuring different genres or a single painter in one or two galleries but I've never had a gallery-wide exhibition spanning so many years and so many different artists. It's a wonderful overview of nearly two centuries of Connecticut art. This show is a testament to the talent and deep affection artists feel for this beloved subject. We have six major gallery shows a year and looking around this one I think at least one should be purely Connecticut every year. We are very lucky to live and work where we do," says Jeff Cooley of The Cooley Gallery.
The Cooley Gallery in Old Lyme celebrates the rich artistic history of Connecticut with a gallery-wide exhibition of paintings, At Our Best, from nearly two centuries by artists living and working in the Nutmeg State. All four gallery spaces are hung in a mixed display of genres, styles and periods. Natives and visitors alike will find a varied show with something for everyone.
If your heart is in the 19th century, you'll be engaged by the bucolic scene painted by Henrik Kruseman Van Elten (1829-1904) titled Homeward Bound where a lone herdsman guides his cattle back to the barn under a luminous sky at the end of the day. It's an ambitious work with a richly painted surface. Sunlight fills the canvas and skims the trees with the shore just beyond. The richly carved historic frame recalls the graciousness of another era.
Then there's the Charles DeWolf Brownell (1822-1909) On the Beach, Cuba when Brownell was there on one of his many Caribbean painting excursions with Frederick Church.
When people think of art in Connecticut the Impressionists of the colony at Old Lyme typically comes to mind. Many of the painters who worked and played together in the late 19th and early 20th century along the Lieutenant River at Miss Florence's mansion are represented in this exhibition.
Clark Voorhees' tonal work titled the Snowy Hills of Lyme (More Snow Coming) is heavy with the atmospheric effects the artists of the colony aspired to and achieved. William S. Robinson lived in Old Lyme until 1937. Lucien Abrams joined the colony after many years abroad. There's an Abrams painting here depicting a sunny snow scene with the Florence Griswold House in the background. Robert Vonnoh, Henry Rankin Poore, Gregory Smith, Wilson Irvine, Charles Harold Davis, George Bruestle, Frank Bicknell, Jules Turcas, Bruce Crane and William S. Robinson round out the colony members whose works appear in this show.
Old Lyme's reputation began with the colony painters but continues to this day. There's a restoratively colorful abstraction by Ruud Bergmans, Helen Cantrell's Red Star Snow, and a porcelain collage on canvas, White Caps, by Pat Smith also of Old Lyme. Chester's Jan Cummings Good has one of her multi-layered circle pieces in this exhibition while Jerry Weiss contributes a beautiful figurative painting in Crazy Quilt. From the western part of the state we have contemporary painter Tom Yost's Passing Storm, Roxbury, 2012 and the list goes on.
Painters who thrived in the mid-century from Connecticut include Priscilla Roberts (1916-2001), the "magic realist" who had a small but dedicated following during her lifetime and lived in Wilton. Her painting, Pick Up Your Toys is displayed in the gallery with the actual 19th century German tin soldiers and the "Pick Up Your Toys" nursery sign the artist used in the composition.
There are many, many more artists in this exhibition but perhaps one of the best known Connecticut artist whose works are part of permanent collections in major museums around the world is Sol LeWitt (1928-2007). Sol is a beloved figure in American art who challenged theories on design, color and production of contemporary art.
AT OUR BEST continues through March 30th. Visitors are welcome and encouraged Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. or online anytime at www.cooleygallery.com.
Founded in 1981 and located in the heart of historic Old Lyme, the Cooley Gallery specializes in fine American paintings from the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries, including the Hudson River School, American Impressionism, and select contemporary artists. Regular gallery hours are Tuesday-Saturday, 10am to 5pm. Please call (860) 434-8807 or visit www.cooleygallery.com for additional information. The Cooley Gallery is located at 25 Lyme Street, Old Lyme, CT 06371.