Hidden gem in Hartford: the Wadsworth Athenaeum

Before the storm hit, Ratty and I visited the Wadsworth Athenaeum, a really terrific art museum in Hartford, CT. The selection is great: Dali, Degas, Chagall, an unusual Munch landscape, a fun painting of “Gossiping Women” by none other than Goya, etc. There are little delights like a porphyry bathtub from ancient Rome, an ostrich ewer made from an ostrich egg, and for some reason a stuffed gar. There are depictions of scenes and people I’m not sure I’ve seen before in art: a statue of Sappho, an intense statue of two women giving the thumbs-down to a condemned gladiator in the arena, a painting of “The Disenchantment of Bottom,” another of a Christian Science reading room, a sculpture of a daddy faun dandling his little son faun on his knee.

The big gallery on the first floor is especially well-curated. Lots of big, strange pictures, arranged by instinct rather than by chronology. There’s a sublime “Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine” by Bassano, in which none of the sharp-featured characters look at the “camera”; the painting has a humility and tenderness, a kind of low-rent atmosphere, which I loved. There’s a striking, sunny and scary illustration by Joseph Wright of Derby of Aesop’s fable of “The Old Man and Death”–in fact, maybe I was just in a Halloween mood, but I felt like you could put together a terrific exhibit of spooky art here. I’d include a couple of abstract works, like Graham Sutherland’s “Palm Palisades,” in which palm trees become spiked clubs, and the one with the gray slats with shivery red light shining through. (I didn’t get the artist’s name for that one.)

There’s just great stuff here. Cranach the Elder’s “Feast of Herod,” with these terrific knowing, cat-eyed faces; an old woman telling scary stories to her grandkids; Gustave Dore’s “Virgin of the Apocalypse”; a soft, longing, very sensitive portrait of a “Boy with a Hat” by Michael Sweerts.

Admission was $10 for a non-student adult. Highly recommended. We walked until we were footsore and still hadn’t seen quite all of the museum’s gems, but we felt totally satisfied because, again, the museum is really well set up for browsing. You see a really wide range of artwork even if you stay on the first floor.

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!