The Wadsworth Atheneum has 50,000 items in its permanent collection, so it wasn't easy for Director Susan Talbott to choose 10 of those items to represent the museum's most important holdings. "I could probably give you 50, and if you asked me tomorrow, I might choose 50 other ones," Talbott said. These are her choices, and Talbott and other Atheneum curators chime in on exactly why each piece is important.
"The Fall of Man," undated, ivory and wood sculpture by an anonymous Master of the St. Sebastian's Martyrdoms (South German or Austrian). Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917.
"This unknown ivory carver ... has created this almost three-dimensional sculpture out of half of an ivory tusk. The level of detail and the expressive power that he achieves in make it quite remarkable. ... There are multiple levels of relief, wonderful animals in various stages of relief. ... Everything is in movement except the two figures even though she is handing Adam the apple. He looks down with this expression on his face. He looks like this probably is not going to bode well. ... He knows this is a momentous decision he is about to make."
Linda Roth, Charles C. and Eleanor Lamont Cunningham Curator of European Decorative Arts
"Saint Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy," c. 1595–96, oil on canvas by Caravaggio. Purchased in 1943.
"I daresay that this is the most important painting in Connecticut. Any major work by Caravaggio that is authenticated is critically important because Caravaggio created so few works. This is the first Caravaggio purchased by an American museum. It's also very typical of his work in that it has all of the identifiers of a Caravaggio, the dramatic light, the poignancy of the pose, the relationship between the angel and St. Francis, the way the light appears out of the darkness."
Susan Talbott, director
"Coast Scene, Mount Desert," 1863 oil on canvas by Frederic Edwin Church. Purchased in 1948.
"This work is significant to both Hartford and the world. Church was from Hartford, the son of a businessman, so it resonates nicely the story of patronage here at the Wadsworth Atheneum. Church is celebrated for his treatment of of weather patterns of several times of day ... and all of his paintings were spiritual in nature. This was at the moment when landscape was defining American art."
Erin Monroe, Assistant Curator of American Painting and Sculpture
"The Beach at Berck," 1873 oil on canvas by Édouard Manet. Purchased in 1967.
"We have a great collection of French paintings and French impressionism. This Manet is in my eyes is the highlight of that collection. Manet was the mentor and teacher of French impressionists who came after him, Monet, Degas, Renoir. They all looked up to him. ... This painting is so modern it's hard to believe it was painted in 1873. ... It's so evocative of the seascape, the beach, the light on the beach and yet it's comprised of so few brushstrokes and so few colors. It's a tour de force but also a real beacon of what was to come in modern painitnmg even 50, 75 years later."
Susan Talbott, director
"The Lawrence Tree," 1929 oil on canvas by Georgia O'Keeffe. Purchased in 1981.
"This painting talks about, through the language of art, the intertwined relationship between artists and writers. ... She created this painting sitting on a bench looking up at this towering pine outside the ranch that D.H. Lawrence had stayed in when he came to New Mexico. D.H. Lawrence had just written "Lady Chatterley's Lover." ... In that book, there is sexual imagery related to trees. ... Georgia O'Keeffe was accused by critics of using nature images to create images of the human body. Here we have in essence an artist making visual a form that constantly was in D.H. Lawrence."