Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Lyman Allyn Museum

To my surprise a museum was among the dealers who exhibited at the Academy Mansion as part of Master Drawings New York at the end of January . The mansion was built in 1921 by the architect Frederick Sterner for the heir to the Royal Baking Powder Company fortune, William Ziegler.  The typical New York brownstone is 25 feet wide but Ziegler’s mansion is 75 feet.  So it was perfect as a venue for 5 or 6 art galleries from different cities in the States and abroad that did not have a New York City venue.  The museum in question was the Lyman Allyn Museum.  It seems to have been the idea of Christopher Bishop, an art  dealer  from Norwalk, Connecticut to invite a nearby institution from New London Connecticut to participate.

I have always been aware of the small local museums in France and their high quality holdings but much less so in this country.  Here we have so many major museums to visit we rarely get to the small gems that exist.  I was only vaguely aware of the Lyman Allyn Museum and don’t believe I ever visited though I know I had been in the area.  To my delight they exhibited a group of high quality Old Master drawings, which looked especially good in the Academy Mansion’s wood paneled rooms.  Here are two of those drawings, the head of Mary Magdalene by an anonymous German 15th century master and an elaborate Abraham Bloemaert (Dutch, 1564-1651) of “A Dove Cote” which has on the verso a Portrait Sketch of a woman (not shown).

I wanted to learn more and spoke briefly with the representative from the museum, Tanya Pohrt, who is Curator for Special Projects.  Of course, I also looked them up on line.  In 1910 Harriet Allyn requested that her bank which was clearly administrating her will would use money from her estate to create a park and museum.  She made the task easier by supplying a large piece of land next to Connecticut College, which was a girls school at the time.  Upon the donor’s death in 1926 the architect Charles A. Platt was hired to build a neoclassical museum which he based on his Addison Gallery of American Art at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts.  It was completed in 1932.

The Lyman Allyn Museum is focused, though not exclusively, on American Art with collections of paintings, works on paper, decorative arts between the 17th and 20th century.  Two examples from the American Painting collection are an Isaac Sheffield (1807-1845) who was the son of a sea captain known for painting portraits of sea captains but here he made an exception and painted the 5 year old son of a sea captain.  An absolute classic by a better known artist is a New England scene by Frederick Edwyn Church (1826-1900) painted in 1850.

Clearly, the Museum has more than American art, in the exhibition I saw there were works by a number of European artists as well as ones mentioned above they showed a Frederico Zuccaro and Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres.  There are 900 drawings out of 15,000 objects in the collection.

The plot of land that Ms. Allyn gave to the museum was turned into a lovely sculpture garden. Several of the works are by a local artist, David Smalley, and here is one in the 11 acre sculpture walk.

The museum collection includes some ancient and non-western objects.  There is a contemporary gallery and several contemporary photography exhibitions are on the books.

In the early 19th century the Town of New London was one of the world’s busiest whaling ports and it is still used by the Coast Guard as well as pleasure craft. There is a large beach and a grand theater.  It seems like the perfect place for a summer visit Since I plan all my travels around museums in the area this will certainly be on my list.

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