Bruce Museum: Retrospective of the work of Charles Harold Davis

The Bruce Museum returns to its roots in September, with a retrospective of the work of Charles Harold Davis, a talented American landscapist who was the leader of Mystic, Connecticut artists’ colony and who worked in Barbizon, Impressionist, and Tonalist manners. The Bruce Museum’s first art exhibition, organized by the Greenwich Society of Artists in 1912, highlighted the work of local Connecticut impressionists and landscapists. Soon after, the Bruce purchased eight original works directly from the local artists – including The Old Pasture from Charles Harold Davis – forming the seminal holdings of the Museum’s art collection.

Charles Harold Davis (1856-1933): Mystic Impressionist opens at the Bruce on September 26, and will include more than 30 paintings by Davis, including works on loan from other institutions such as Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Florence Griswold Museum, New Britain Museum of American Art, and private collectors and galleries. The retrospective at the Bruce is the first museum exhibition in decades to highlight this important but oft-neglected artist.

“In his day, Davis was regarded as a towering figure, likened to the giants of 19th-century art as well as literature,” says Dr. Peter C. Sutton, The Susan E. Lynch Executive Director of the Bruce Museum. “But today he is largely forgotten. I stumbled on his virtues when we did a show of Connecticut Impressionism, called Pasture to Pond, and was sufficiently impressed to choose his work for the cover of the catalogue. We hope the present monographic show will redress his neglect.”

The exhibition at the Bruce, curated by guest curator Dr. Valerie Ann Leeds with assistance from Tara Contractor, the Museum’s 2014-2015 Samuel H. Kress Interpretive Fellow, includes works from throughout Davis’s prolific career, highlighting his transformation from a delicate Barbizon style, to an atmospheric Impressionism, to the bold, expressive style of his final years.

“A reappraisal of the art and legacy of Charles H. Davis is long overdue,” says Dr. Leeds. “His art, rarely dramatic or theatrical, conveys tranquility, stillness, beauty and lyricism. The full spectrum of his work is exceptional for its mastery and poetic and expressive interpretations of nature.”

Born in Massachusetts and apprenticed to a carriage maker as a teen, Davis’ young life took a turn when he visited the Boston Athenaeum at age 18 and discovered the work of Jean-Francois Millet, a founder of the Barbizon School. Millet’s evocative renderings of rural France inspired Davis to devote his life to landscape painting. He made his way to Paris and exhibited his work to great acclaim there, even winning a silver medal at the 1889 Exposition Universelle. (Childe Hassam, though more wellknown today, won only a bronze.) Soon he retreated to the French countryside, determined to paint the landscape so beloved by Millet, and in 1891, returned home to America, settling in Mystic, where he was greatly inspired by the bright light of the Connecticut coast.

Gradually adopting a brighter color palette, Davis began experimenting with Impressionism, which was fast becoming the dominant style for American art. He exhibited at the famous 1913 Armory Show in New York, widely considered the first large exhibition of modern art in America and another mark of his distinction at the time. A founder of the Mystic Art Colony, Davis selected most of his subjects from Mystic’s rural, rugged landscape, a landscape his wife described as “the land of his heart.” He became especially well known for his paintings of clouds, painting soaring skies with compelling atmosphere and drama.

Charles Harold Davis (1856-1933): Mystic Impressionist opens at the Bruce on September 26 and will be on view through Jan. 3, 2016. Additional programming supporting the exhibition includes:

A special evening lecture by the show’s curator, Valerie Ann Leeds, on Tuesday, September 29, from 7 to 8:30 p.m.

A Monday morning Impressionism lecture series, featuring experts on American Impressionism. All Monday morning lectures in the series run from 10 to 11:15 am.

Monday, September 28: “Childe Hassam on the Move” by Jay Cantor, fine arts consultant

Monday, October 5: Lecture by Deborah Gerstler Spanierman, fine arts consultant, and

appraiser of paintings and drawings, Antiques Roadshow

Monday, October 19: “American Tonalism: Painting, Printmaking, and Photography,

1880 – 1910” by Shannon Vittoria, PhD candidate specializing in late nineteenth-century andscape art at The Graduate Center, CUNY

Monday, October 26: Lecture by Amy Kurtz Lansing, curator at the Florence Griswold Museum

Charles Harold Davis (1856-1933): Mystic Impressionist is generously underwritten by the Charles M. and Deborah G. Royce Exhibition Fund and a Committee of Honor co-chaired by Nancy Duffy, Leora and Steve Levy, Alice Melly, Linda and Steve Munger, and Lynne and Richard Pasculano, with support from the Connecticut Office of the Arts. And when you go, don’t forget your cell phone: This exhibition, like many others at the Bruce, will be accompanied by Guide by Cell, a compelling cell phone audio tour guide program, generously underwritten by Lucy and Nat Day. Easy to follow Guide by Cell instructions will be available at the front admissions desk.

Charles Harold Davis (American, 1856-1933), The Old Pasture, 1916. Oil on canvas, 25 x 30 in., Bruce Museum, purchase from the artist, 1919 — Photograph by Paul Mutino.

Charles Harold Davis (American, 1856-1933), The Old Pasture, 1916. Oil on canvas, 25 x 30 in., Bruce Museum, purchase from the artist, 1919 — Photograph by Paul Mutino.

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