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School of Lyme: Painting in the Studio


Most of the artists who came to Old Lyme also had studios in New York or elsewhere. Both Henry Ward Ranger and Childe Hassam, leaders in the Lyme Art Colony, had studios in an artist co-op located on West 67th Street in New York next to Central Park. The studios had high ceilings and north-facing windows with spaces for sleeping and living. Unlike the contemporary notion of an artist’s studio, these spaces were often richly decorated, filled with carpets and domestic furniture, artistic knickknacks, and giant paintings in ornate gold frames. The situation was much different once the artists traveled outside the city to paint.

“Little gray studios grew up like toadstools in Florence’s broad fields, that stretched down to Lieutenant River.”

~ Journalist Alice Lawton

There were several painting studios, “entirely casual affairs,” on the grounds of the Griswold boardinghouse that were crafted out of vacant barns and other outbuildings to accommodate her artistic boarders. Artists staying with Miss Florence could request studio space to use during their visit. The studio rent was as low as $5 a month. During a recent archaeological dig, the site of the studio that was often used by Childe Hassam was discovered to the northwest of the gardens. 

Old farm structures behind the Griswold House


Nestled in the remains of an ancient apple orchard, Hassam’s studio afforded views of both the river and Miss Florence’s gardens. Long-term boarder William Robinson also had his own studio on the property. Today, the Hartman Education Center stands on the site of an earlier barn structure that was also used as studio space, complete with a large north-facing window.

The studios were creative workspaces where the artists could prepare and store their materials and work comfortably at any hour of the day or night. Despite the fact that the Impressionists, both in France and America, championed the notion of painting en plein air, or in the open air, most eventually returned to the controlled environment of the studio to complete a work of art, as well as to frame it or crate it. The first artists to stay in the boardinghouse worked outdoors but primarily with the intention of gathering visual information in a sketchbook or a painterly oil sketch. “The object of study and sketching out of doors is to fill the memory with facts,” remarked one Tonalist Lyme painter. Likewise, Henry Ward Ranger, who is photographed on Mason’s Island painting beneath the trees, paradoxically remarked that “he painted in the studio because he could get closer to nature that way than by painting out of doors.”


Barns behind the house were used as studio space
Photography and inscriptions by Jerry Bywater
Photograph courtesy of Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas


Postcard showing oxen with barn used by artists behind the Griswold House



Film Clips from Silent Film "Lyme Artists" (1930s)
George Bruestle Painting in his Studio
in Lyme


Ivan Olinsky Painting his Daughter
Tosca in his Studio in Lyme


Edward Volkert Painting in his Lyme Studio


Artist Eugene Higgins in his Lyme Studio

Artists in the West 67th Street Co-Op in New York City, 1929


Henry Rankin Poore in Studio with paint brush in hand and on table


Artist studio with framed painting on easel


Harry Hoffman (1874-1966)
Childe Hassam’s Studio, 1909
Oil on canvas
Gift of the Artist


Will Howe Foote (1874-1965)
Wiggle Drawing "Oh Fudge" (artist at easel)
Graphite on paper


Portable Studios

Several of the Old Lyme artists actually bridged the gap between painting in the studio and painting en plein air with their portable painting studios, small compartments affixed to a rickshaw-like vehicle that they could pull into the fields to keep warm on winter sketching trips – not unlike Claude Monet who painted on the River Seine in his studio boat.


Benjamin Eggleston standing next to his portable studio

Sketch of portable studio on sled treads by unknown artist


The Chadwick Studio

The studio of American Impressionist William Chadwick (1879-1962), a member of the Lyme Art Colony, has been preserved on the grounds of the Florence Griswold Museum. Although not original to the property (the studio was moved to its present location in 1992 from elsewhere in Old Lyme), it demonstrates how an artist might organize his creative space. The studio has three main areas: workshop, studio, and loft. Originally an icehouse, the workshop area is filled with tools, canvases, frames and shipping crates. The studio portion was made homey with an area rug, wood stove, and desk with lamp. Chadwick was known to hang a sign on the studio door that read “resting” while napping on the soft daybed.

It is also a practical space for painting, with the large northern window, a wide workbench for mixing pigments and organizing painting tools, and a model stand set with studio props. Chadwick was a talented figure painter as well as a landscapist, who worked in a high-key Impressionist style. Chadwick’s easel stands in the middle of the room displaying one of several facsimiles of his paintings.


Chadwick sitting in his New York studio


The workbench in the William Chadwick Studio

The William Chadwick Studio


William Chadwick (1879-1962)
On the Piazza, c. 1908
Oil on canvas
Gift of Mrs Elizabeth Chadwick O'Connell


The workbench in the William Chadwick Studio