02: The Development of Art Colonies

The Development of Art Colonies

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, art colonies developed in parts of Europe (France, the Netherlands and central Germany), as well as in Australia and America. It is estimated that between 1830 and 1914 some three thousand professional artists participated in this movement away from urban areas into the countryside, where they resided for various lengths of time in many communities.[2]

These residencies took on different forms. Some residencies were temporary· for example, in Honfleur and Giverny in France, and Katwijk in the Netherlands, where painters came to stay for a single summer. Other villages developed a semi-permanent mix of visiting and resident artists. Examples include Ahrenshoop and Dachau in Germany, Barbizon and Concarneau in France, and St. Ives in New South Wales, Australia. There were also villages in which a group of artists settled permanently, bought or built their own houses and studios, and occupied them for all or a part of every year. Such villages included Egmond and Sint­Martens-Latem in the Netherlands.[3]

There were of course exceptions to these three categories. For example, Monet lived in Giverny for for­ty-three years and painted his famous water-lily series there. He hired gardeners to develop beautiful gardens around his pink stucco country house and he guarded his gardens jealously. Giverny still receives a half million visitors every year and ironically, although the visi­tors come searching for Monet’s gardens as they would have looked when the artist was alive and painting, the constant flow of tourists has necessitated changes. When Monet was there, the life cycle of the gardens was in tune with the natural surroundings. Today, to maintain the gardens in full bloom for the entire seven months Giverny is open to visitors annually, and there are plants that were unavailable to Monet, not to mention the concrete walkways in place of meandering natural paths.[4]

The last half of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century saw a phenomenal growth in American art colonies as well. Colonies were established in Maryland; in New York, notably the Roycroft community in East Aurora (Erie County), and Yaddo, in Saratoga Springs; in Michigan, which was home to Ox­ Bow in Saugatuck; in New Mexico with its famed Taos Art Colony; in Jerome, Arizona; and in Florida, where the Studios of Key West flourished.[5]

In New Hampshire, there was Peterborough’s Mac­Dowell Colony, considered the first planned colony, as well as thriving groups in North Conway, Cornish, Dublin, and Nelson. [6] The Cornish Art Colony began with Augustus Saint-Gaudens when he moved his summer residence there. He quickly found a suitable model and began work on his iconic statue of Lincoln. Other artists soon followed. The beauty of the southern New Hampshire landscape transformed the small town of Dublin into a mecca for artists and writers, who were inspired by its rural simplicity and its natural beauty.

Although the market for art remained primarily urban, these colonies developed in reaction to the growing industrialization of nations and the resulting movement of people to cities to work. An increasing nostalgia for the countryside and a desire to return to a quiet, simpler time prompted this important shift. Moreover, rents in smaller, more remote areas were more affordable than in urban areas . Artists were able to find places where they could support themselves while continuing their work, and they began to cluster in areas that were both economically and aesthetically hospitable. The benefit they received from their close association with other artists as well as with scholars in these communities cannot be underestimated .

New Hampshire’s countryside with its wild and natural beauty was a perfect match for artists, providing them with feasts for both eye and canvas. For example, from the colony established in the White Mountains in North Conway, landscape artists produced paintings of the magnificent landscape which were sought after far beyond New Hampshire’s borders.

In the 1970s a gentleman who bought a farm in Marlborough found an old real estate flyer there, printed at the turn of the twentieth century, which listed abandoned farms in the area. Perhaps this very brochure provided a window of opportunity to artists seeking the solitude of our small New Hampshire towns.

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