Poughkeepsie, NY- When it was completed in 1852, the Poughkeepsie Eagle praised Matthew Vassar’s Springside estate, “Thou art indeed a realization of a painter’s dream….” The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College has recently acquired three paintings of Springside by American landscape painter, Henry Gritten (1818-1873), as promised gifts to the collection. The paintings demonstrate the verity of the Eagle’s proclamation.
The three vivid oil paintings depict Matthew Vassar’s Poughkeepsie estate after its completion in 1852. The paintings serve as important records of the landscape and architectural design of Andrew Jackson Downing. Downing designed Springside for brewer, philanthropist, and founder of Vassar College, Matthew Vassar, as an idyllic home and nature retreat.
“The Gritten paintings of Springside are unique and important historical documents and critical to our understanding of a major lost monument in the history of landscape design,” said Lehman Loeb Art Center director James Mundy. “They complete the picture of Matthew Vassar as an architectural patron.”
The paintings, auctioned at Christie’s in New York City on January 23, 2009, were purchased by an anonymous Vassar alumna and her husband and will reside at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center as promised gifts. Currently being conserved, the Gritten landscapes will be installed in the Art Center galleries by early fall 2009.
According to a family history, cited in the Christie’s auction catalogue, these three paintings were acquired in 1898 from a yard sale in Poughkeepsie by Springside’s caretaker, Karl Keiling (1865-1939).
At the time of the Springside commission, Andrew Jackson Downing was considered the leading American horticulturist and tastemaker in the field of architecture and design. Downing had been appointed by President Filmore to design and supervise the landscape surrounding the White House, the Capitol, and the Smithsonian. Springside, a National Historic Landmark located at Academy Street and Route 9 in Poughkeepsie, is the only surviving Downing landscape and is today being preserved by the Springside Landscape Restoration organization.
Springside’s design exemplified Downing’s theories of combining the beautiful in nature and art. In contrast to the leading trend for rigid, geometric, neoclassical landscape design, Downing advocated in his writings for architecture and landscapes that complimented the rugged New England and Hudson River Valley terrain. His designs strove to exist in harmony with nature.
The original plans for Springside, now part of the Vassar Library collection, show winding paths and thickets of trees. The Gritten paintings allow the 21st century viewer to more completely envision Downing’s actualized design. The paintings depict the winding trails, the lush foliage, and the buildings that complimented rather than competed with the natural scenery. Although many of the pathways survive today, only the Gatehouse remains on the Springside ( http://springsidelandmark.org/ ) property.
ABOUT THE FRANCES LEHMAN LOEB ART CENTER
The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center was founded in 1864 as the Vassar College Art Gallery. The current 36,400-square-foot facility, designed by Cesar Pelli and named in honor of the new building's primary donor, opened in 1993. The Lehman Loeb Art Center's collections chart the history of art from antiquity to the present and comprise almost 18,000 works, including paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs, and glass and ceramic wares. Notable holdings include the Warburg Collection of Old Master prints, an important group of Hudson River School paintings given by Matthew Vassar at the college's inception, and a wide range of works by major European and American 20th- century painters. Vassar was the first U.S. college founded with a permanent art collection and gallery, and at any given time, the Permanent Collection Galleries of the Art Center feature approximately 350 works from Vassar's extensive collections.
Admission to the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center is free. The Lehman Loeb Art Center is open to the public Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, 10:00 am–5:00 pm; Thursday, 10:00 am–9:00 pm; and Sunday, 1:00–5:00 pm. Located at the entrance to the historic Vassar College campus, the Art Center can be reached within minutes from other Mid-Hudson cultural attractions, such as Dia:Beacon, the Franklin Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt national historic sites and homes, and the Vanderbilt mansion. The Art Center is wheelchair accessible. For more information, the public may call (845) 437-5632 or visit http://fllac.vassar.edu.
Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential liberal arts college founded in 1861.