I recently completed an art history ConnCourse called Mona Lisa to Instagram, taught by Professor Karen Gonzalez-Rice, which focused on historical artists such as Leonardo da Vinci to contemporary artists like Kara Walker. In the final weeks of class, we studied Impressionism and Postimpressionism, and instead of viewing the examples on a projector, which can alter the coloration and size of art, Professor Gonzalez-Rice took us to view The Lyman Allyn Art Museum’s permanent collection of 18th through 20th century art.
The Lyman Allyn is just a short walk from Cummings Art Center, which is on the south campus and boasts its own small collection of art. The museum contains nine galleries, an auditorium, a library, bookshop and café. All of the artworks in this exhibit are inspired by New England scenes or created by New England artists, which made the art more personal. Many historical artworks examined in art history classes have been created in Europe and surrounding countries, so the context of the pieces can be somewhat lost from an American perspective hundreds of years later. But looking at these Connecticut scenes in the Lyman Allyn museum allowed us a deeper connection and understanding of the art.
Aside from learning about the scandalous backstories of paintings, our class spent considerable time visiting physical art in the Lyman Allyn. I am personally more interested in contemporary art, but throughout the Mona Lisa to Instagram ConnCourse, we talked about the historical context in which the paintings were created. When you get to know the history behind an artist’s perspective, it’s almost like getting to know them. One of the most interesting stories about a painting we heard was that of The Swing, which was created in 1776 by Jean-HonoréFragonard. This painting depicts a woman on a swing being pushed by her husband to her lover, which is hysterical to me because everyone in the painting looks so happy. Originally, this painting was supposed to depict the man behind the madame as a bishop. However, the artist Jean-Honoré, who had a sense of humor I can appreciate, changed this request to make the man her husband, as a humorous commentary on societal expectations for married women.