in Hartford, Connecticut, is the oldest continuously operated public art museum in the United States. Founded by Daniel Wadsworth in 1842, and opened in 1844, it originally housed a gallery of fine arts, the Connecticut Historical Society, and the Young Men's Institute (which later became the Hartford Public Library). Its early art collection included Wadsworth's gift of paintings commissioned from leading artists of the Hudson River School, the collection of the American Academy of Fine Arts acquired for the museum in 1844, as well as history paintings, portraits, and sculpture.
Twenty years later, the Watkinson Library of reference opened to the public in an addition to the Wadsworth building. In 1893 the renovated and expanded Atheneum reopened after the museum's first fundraising campaign. Elizabeth Hart Jarvis Colt, widow of the firearms manufacturer Samuel Colt, bequeathed her collection of paintings, decorative arts, and firearms to the museum in 1905, with funds to erect the Colt Memorial wing. Two years later, financier J. Pierpont Morgan proposed building another wing, the Junius Spencer Morgan Memorial, in memory of his father. The Colt and Morgan wings were opened separately in 1910. In 1917, J.P. Morgan Jr. presented the museum with over a thousand objects from his father's collections. A decade later Morgan gave the Atheneum the Wallace Nutting collection of seventeenth-century American furniture and decorative arts, the largest of its kind. With the appointment of A. Everett Austin Jr. as director in 1927, the Atheneum began to develop its large collection of European paintings and twentieth-century masterpieces. The performing arts were added to the museum's programs in 1934 with the building of the Samuel Putnam Avery Memorial wing, which included a fully equipped theater. Since that time, the Atheneum has continued to expand its collections and activities in many areas, including the establishment of the influential MATRIX program of contemporary exhibitions in 1975; the acquisition of the Austin House in 1985, a National Historic Landmark; and the creation of a department of African American art in 1989.
The Wadsworth Atheneum has a representative collection of American folk art, including regional New England and Connecticut portraits by Ralph Earl, Simon Fitch, Joseph Steward, Joseph Whiting Stock, Ruth Whittier Shute, and Samuel Addison Shute, among many others. During the 1930s and 1940s, the museum acquired a number of private collections of maritime art, including models and paintings of ships, scrimshaw, portraits of sea captains, and whaling logs. Many of these objects have regional associations to ports on the Connecticut River. In addition, between 1957 and 1960, Edith Gregor Halpert, founder of the American Folk Art Gallery in New York, gave forty folk paintings and sculptures to the Wadsworth Atheneum ranging from works by well-known artists, such Edward Hicks and William Matthew Prior, to works by unidentified painters and sculptors. The collection of American decorative arts includes folk sculpture ranging from trade signs and cigar store Indians to decoys and weathervanes.
See also Ralph Earl; Edith Gregor Halpert; Edward Hicks; Maritime Folk Art; William Matthew Prior; Scrimshaw; Ruth Whittier Shute; Samuel Addison Shute; Joseph Steward; Joseph Whiting Stock.
ELIZABETH MANKIN KORNHAUSER
SEE SHAKER FURNITURE.