The Biddington's Bentley Takes to the Road

Art & Antiques Touring in Connecticut
Marsden Hartley in Hartford
Antiques in Wilton

Marsden Hartley portrait of Gertrude Stein

"Marsden Hartley" Exhibition
Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT 2003

Editor's Note: This article was published in spring 2003.

Marsden Hartley, an American painter from Maine, traveled to Europe on Alfred Stieglitz's dime and spent time in contact with the revolutionary artists and art movements of pre-WWI Europe: Matisse, Kandinsky, der Blaue Reiter and the Futurists. What branded Hartley from his exposure to this hotbed of ideas was a fresh approach to color. In his laying down of vibrant paint stripes, and also in their sexual symbolism, Hartley's works from the teens served up the visual elements that another Steiglitz painter, Georgia O'Keefe, rode into glory.

Marsden Hartley "Portrait of One Woman" (Gertrude Stein) 1916
Weisman Art Museum University of Minnesota

Marsden Hartley landscape Vence

While Hartley didn't particularly enjoy the Parisian milieu, still he seems to have been seared by the high color of the Fauves. Throughout his life, Hartley retains an American straightforwardness and graphic boldness. The high-contrast painting (at left) of Vence takes the Fauve audacity with color and runs with it; so much so that this painting feels like the archetype for all high-color, hard-shadow Southwestern landscape painting. And a Matissian sense of color re-emerges in certain of Marsden Hartley's late figurative works like the peculiarly beautiful "Christ Held by Half-Naked Men" (1940-41) in which a fishbelly-white descendent Christ is supported by a flying-wedge of red chorus boys.

Marsden Hartley "Landscape Vence" 1925-1926 Weisman Art Museum University of Minnesota

Marsden Hartley portrait Adelard Drowned Master of the Phantom

As Hartley's life and relationships change, his painting takes odd turns. Lacking an exploratory, evolutionary aspect, the effect is disconcerting rather than intriguing. Marsden Hartley apparently had no functioning internal compass; so, his work is tremendously uneven in quality. Witness the peculiar--part icon, part cartoon.--portrait paintings from the late 30's of a family of fishermen on the Maine seacoast. Only rarely during this large show of more than 100 works does Marsden Hartley hit his stride. Nowhere is it written that an artist must be consistently successful in all efforts, but an exhibition like this one makes the audience work more than most.

Marsden Hartley "Adelard Drowned Master of the Phantom" 1938-39
Weisman Art Museum University of Minnesota

Editor's Note: Frederick Fieldhouse Biddington described the following tour made during the third weekend in June--1999. Jake Biddington added comments on the Marsden Hartley exhibition and pertinent touring updates in March 2003.

For this trip, we took the top down on the Bentley, secured our straw hats and headed northward from Manhattan toward New England. We chose one of the parkways. We could have taken I-95N, but it's not a Bentley kind of thoroughfare. We turned at Route 7 toward Danbury and very shortly thereafter found ourselves in the pretty Connecticut town of Wilton. Our destination was the annual Kiwanis Club-sponsored Wilton Antiques Fair.

This event is, indeed, a Bentley kind of affair. The local Kiwanis gentlemen direct one's way to parking in a grassy field and greet everyone cordially at the entry area. This yearly June event takes place under tents making it both comfortable and aesthetically pleasing. The dealers are of the professional variety--cordial, informative and asking good questions. The show was weighted toward Americana with many interesting pieces of furniture and a fine array of quilts. But there were also interesting dealers in Southwestern jewelry, sculpture and continental furniture. The food tent offered ample supplies of lemonade and regional specialties from cold lobster to Italian sausage and peppers.

Hartford, Connecticut

"A city whose fame as an insurance center has extended to all lands and given us the name of being a quadruple band of brothers working sweetly hand in hand -- the Colt's Arms Company making the destruction of our race easy and convenient, our life insurance citizens paying for the victims when they pass away, Mr. Batterson perpetuating their memory with his stately monuments, and our fire insurance companies taking care of their hereafter."
--Hartford, Connecticut native son Mark Twain in a speech of 10/12/1874

Back in the Bentley, our next destination was Hartford. Hartford is the state capitol and, for more than 100 years, the center of America's insurance industry. The purpose of this specific Bentley outing was a pilgrimage to view a show at the Wadsworth Atheneum. Downtown Hartford is an attractive rebuilt, racially mixed community but with few downtown hotels. Note: The Hastings Hotel & Conference Center on Sigourney Street (off Asylum Street) just across from a large Aetna building is very quiet on the weekend--but the rates are also more subdued than during the week. Also recommended is the Goodwin Hotel (on Asylum), a refurbished hotel in an historical facade

Having noted an attractive theater on the way into the city, we called for ticket information. We were informed that one hour before show time remaining seats would be offered at 50% of face value. The theater, called the Bushnell, is a large, lovingly restored edifice soon to become vastly enlarged with a modern addition. The Bushnell shows major Broadway road productions with star casts & complete orchestra. Tickets were, in fact, readily obtained. (For more information about special offerings of arts you might also check: The Greater Hartford Arts Council.)

Before theater, an early dinner at Savannah--391 Main (860 278-2020) three blocks and easy parking from the Bushnell--provides a very sophisticated culinary treat. Reservations are helpful since the restaurant is thronged on theater nights.

The Wadsworth Atheneum--America's oldest art museum is a true museum lover's delight. Spacious and uncrowded, the permanent collection alone--from Renaissance (Cranach's "Feast of Herod") & Baroque (Tiepolo--the son's--Building of the Trojan Horse) paintings to great American Hudson River School (Thomas Cole's "Mt. Etna") and American Impressionists (Julius Spencer's "Boating Party")--is worth several visits. Since sustenance is always an issue, the museum's convenient courtyard restaurant with it's pleasant Sunday brunch is a welcome amenity, but be forewarned that a reservation is advisable.

Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Co. formerly held a venerable corporate art collection. The collection includes more than 100 works of early 18th through early 20th century paintings and furniture including paintings from Connecticut artists Henry Ward Ranger, Edward Rook and Childe Hassam (from the Lyme artists colony) as well as works by John Twachtman, Theodore Robinson and J. Alden Weir from the Cos Cob colony. Update: As of 2003, the collection can be viewed at Florence Griswald Museum in Old Lyme, CT.

Once more embarking in the Bentley, a short drive westward toward the upscale Hartford suburb of Farmington takes us to the Hill-Stead Museum (860 677-4787). This museum is housed in a McKim, Mead & White/Theodate Pope structure built by industrialist Alfred Atmore Pope and features a Beatrix Farrand-designed sunken garden. The museum owns fine furniture and important Impressionist works by Degas, Manet & Monet.

If time and energy permits, one can continue this museum route, working southward to New Britain and New Britain Museum of American Art (860 229-0257). This museum holds over 4000 American paintings including works by Mary Cassatt, William Merritt Chase, Willard Metcalf, Frederick Frieseke and Maurice Prendergast.

For a gentle entry back to Manhattan, the Bentley followed a route through Litchfield and Danbury, with the briefest of stays on 684 until the Sawmill Parkway offered a pleasant alternative. A return down the Henry Hudson Parkway along the beautiful Hudson to the west side of Manhattan is perhaps the single most charming way to enter The City by automobile.

Jake's 2003 Restaurant Notes:
Pastis Brasserie and Wine Bar--201 St. Ann St. (860) 278-8852.
Authentically good French bistro.

Max Downtown--185 Asylum St. (860) 522-2530.
Nice, large bar and upscale dining.

Savannah--391 Main St. (860) 278-2020
Chic spot with inventive cuisine.

Tapas on Ann--126 Ann St.
Simple, tiny Spanish joint.

More Travel Destinations:
Tourism New York City 2005: Christo's Gates
Art Museums, Neighborhoods & Dining in Buenos Aires
Cultural Touring along Italy's Amalfi Coast
Museums & Restaurants in Amsterdam
Cultural Touring along Spain's Costa del Sol
Art Touring in Lisbon
Art Touring in Milan
Art Touring in Antwerp
Art Touring in Barcelona
I-80 Park City to New York City Art & Antiques
Tourism New York City 2003 (Archive)
Tourism New York City 2002 (Archive)
Art & Wine in the Finger Lakes of New York State
Art & Antiques in Hudson, New York (Columbia County)
Cultural Tourism & Restaurants in Rome 2002 Update
Hartford & Wilton, Connecticut
San Francisco Jackson Square
New Hampshire Route 1A
Morris County, New Jersey

Jake Biddington's 2005 Collecting Series:
Art Appraisals and Valuations
Investment Grade Contemporary Art

Jake Biddington Investing (Archives):
PPP Test: Judging Quality in Contemporary Art
Art, Time and Technology
American vs. European Paintings
Jake Biddington's Art as Entertainment
Jake Biddington's Vetted Antiques & Art Shows
Jake Biddington's Patent Numbers as a Dating Tool
Jake Biddington's Hard Assets as Portfolio Diversification
Jake Biddington's Buying Fine Jewelry at Auction
Jake Biddington's Long Term Investing
Jake Biddington's Short-Term Investing
Jake Biddington's The Craft of Art


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Contact Jake Biddington about His Travels

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