By Arthur Stampleman
The Bruce Museum in Greenwich has some 14,000 objects in its collection. The history-science-art mix of objects reflects the range of activities Robert Moffat Bruce had in mind when he deeded his Greenwich property for the museum in 1908. The change in emphasis over the years reflects the changing interests of the museum’s different directors and organization over time. For much of the time, the focus was on science and history, so art lovers were accustomed to seeing art exhibits featuring works on loan from other museums or local residents. “Canvas and Cast,” however, the new exhibit which runs through June 11, displays only art works from the Bruce’s permanent collection, which has been growing in recent years.
Of the 42 works on display — 35 paintings and seven sculptures — the range is quite broad – dating from 1590 to 1981, styles traditional and modern, various motifs and techniques, artists American and foreign, and names unknown and known. The latter include Childe Hassam, William Merritt Chase, John Henry Twachtman, John Frederick Kensett, Jacques Tissot, Auguste Rodin, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, George Wesley Bellows, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, and Robert Rauschenberg.
The exhibit’s design and the layout of the gallery are rather unusual. The emphasis is on motif and themes, rather than emphasizing a particular medium or tracking chronology. When going through the exhibit, viewers will observe that works focusing on a particular technique or motif are grouped together, and so they can then focus on how each work in that group differs from others in the same grouping.
As you enter the gallery you will see four portraits, the earliest dated 1590 and the latest dated 1917. They are a number of differences between them — the greater emphasis on realism and the unusual format or frames in the two earlier portraits, including one in the old “tondo” or round format, and the contrast between the fine application of paint in the earlier works versus the streaky application in Tissot’s pastel (<Admiring a Portfolio>) and Chase’s spontaneous, loaded brushwork approach (<Young Girl>).
Landscapes, all by Americans, make up the largest group of paintings in the exhibit. The earliest is <Fourteen Mile Island, Lake George> by Kensett the Hudson River School artist, an example of his realistic technique and invisible brush strokes. This is in contrast to the several Impressionist paintings in this section of the gallery where most artists focus on atmospheric effects and do not hide their brush strokes. They include oils by Hassam (probably the best known of the group), Twachtman, Leonard Ochtman (a founder of the Cos Cob Art Colony), and Theodore Robinson. A pair of paintings by Walter McEwen is of special interest, each showing the same Hudson River scene, one in daylight, and the other in evening.
There are several “genre” paintings, works depicting scenes of everyday life. Here <The Broken Flower Pot> by Jan C. Verhas, a Belgian, stands out, portraying two children with guilty looks beside a plant that has fallen on the marble floor. Were they the cause of the accident?
The sculptures in the show demonstrate the variety of techniques and materials available to artists. <The Kiss> by Rodin is a bronze, but he is a molder; he starts his work by molding in clay, leaving his workshop to cast the bronze. Hiram Powers’ <Proserpine> is a portrait bust he carved in marble. Rauchenberg’s <Greyhound Nightmare> is an example of an artist assembling a work from different materials, in this case solvent transfer, acrylic, and collage on wood with aluminum and objects such as chair, wood box, rope, and glass. Not surprisingly, Rauchenberg called his works “combines”. It is possible to see those works from several sides, but Saint-Gaudens’s <Portrait of Robert Louis Stevenson> is a bronze bas-relief, a sculpture in which the figure is raised a few inches from a flat background to give a three-dimensional effect.
The Bruce Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 to 5 and Sunday from 1 to 5. Visitors can also enjoy the extraordinary retrospective of paintings by the impressionist Alfred Sisley until mid-May. For a complete schedule of exhibits and events, call 203-869-0376 or visit www.brucemuseum.org.
Unknown, Haarlem or Amsterdam School
Portrait of a Gentleman, Bust Length, in a White Ruff, c. 1590
Oil on panel
Bruce Museum Collection 2015.14
Theodore Robinson, <Apple Blossoms, 1880
Oil on canvas
Bruce Museum Collection 2006.42
Auguste Rodin, The Kiss (Le Baiser), conceived in 1886
Bronze, cast by Alexis Foundry, Paris
Gift of Melissa Anne and Jillian Leigh Pedone, 1994, in memory of their father, Anthony Paul Pedone
Bruce Museum Collection 94.24
William Merritt Chase, Young Girl, c. 1900
Oil on canvas
Bruce Museum Collection 2002.31
Robert Rauschenberg, Greyhound Nightmare (from Kabal American Zephyr), 1981
Solvent transfer, acrylic and collage on wood with aluminum and objects
Gift of Bill and Fran Deutsch
Bruce Museum Collection 2011.07