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NBMAA Takes A Charming Look At Art Inspired By Farmington's Landscape

Until it split off in the mid-19th century, the city of New Britain was part of the town of Farmington. This summer and fall, New Britain Museum of American Art pays homage to its city’s “mother.”

An exhibit titled “Art in Farmington Village” showcases 18th- to 20th-century artists who congregated in and were inspired by Farmington’s gently rolling hills, lush woodlands, verdant fields, quiet country lanes, pretty architectural elements and two- and four-legged inhabitants.

While not as celebrated as Old Lyme and Cos Cob, whose art colonies gave birth to and nurtured American impressionism, Farmington had its own cluster of like-minded creatives. These artistic kindred spirits were fond of capturing images of the countryside as well as images of themselves.

The exhibit – curated in cooperation with the Farmington Historical Society – features dozens of landscapes in all seasons of the year, as well as numerous portraits of the colony artists, painted by themselves or by other colony artists. Some of these artists were women, although you would never know it from a 1921 James Britton oil-on-canvas of the “Council of Artists,” all of whom are men.

The most influential person in the colony was a woman, not an artist but an educator: Sarah Porter, founder of Miss Porter’s School. The opening in 1843 of the elite prep school for young women was a flashpoint in the town’s artistic evolution. Porter emphasized arts education, so she lured artists to the town to teach her young ladies. These artists lured other artists to hang around and work with them.

Karl Klauser (1823-1905) was hired in 1855 by Porter to teach music, but he also was a photographer. The exhibit features several of his photos of Farmington residents playing music, picnicking, sitting for portraits, riding in horse-drawn carriages.

The colony’s most prominent artist was Robert Bolling Brandegee (1849-1922), who was hired by Porter to teach in 1880. He held salons in his Farmington home and eventually inspired friends Charles Foster, Walter Parsons Shaw Griffin and Britton to live there.

Other friends — William Gedney Bunce, Montague Flagg, Daniel Wentworth and Cecelia Beaux — visited Farmington often. Brandegee’s style influenced two of his students, Helen Andrews and Cecelia Beaux.

Work by these artists and others are on exhibit. Many recurring themes pop up in the artists’ work: the Pequabuck River, church steeples, the ornate front entrance of Oldgate house, the crumbling Farmington aqueduct.

The most charming scenes are the rural images: quiet country lanes bordered by rustic fences, fluffy sheep or grazing cows gathered in fields, a panoramic view of the town in the distance as seen from the top of a sunny hill, an autumnal woods scene with an oxcart. These images show a Farmington that in many cases doesn’t exist anymore.

ART IN FARMINGTON VILLAGE is at New Britain Museum of American Art, 56 Lexington St., until Oct. 7. nbmaa.org.

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