The Wadsworth Atheneum is not well known to the general public, but it is legendary in museum circles for maintaining one of America's best collections of old master paintings.
Located in Hartford, Connecticut, the Atheneum is America's oldest public art museum, founded in 1844, thirty years before the Metropolitan Museum, New York, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Originally, its paintings collection was good but not exceptional. In 1927, however, the museum hired a dynamic young director, A. Everett ("Chick") Austin, and received a large endowment. Frank C. Sumner, a Hartford banker, gave the museum over a million dollars to acquire "choice paintings" in honor of his wife and his sister-in-law.
Between 1927 and 1966, Austin (director from 1927 to 1945) and his successor, Charles Cunningham (director from 1946 to 1966) acquired an extraordinary group of European masterpieces. Austin bought quirky, brilliant paintings, often from the then-unfashionable Baroque period (17th century). Cunningham continued the momentum, but went after key treasures.
Each of the sixty-one paintings in this exhibition has its own story. Collectively they tell the story of a great museum building an exceptional collection. The works represent some of the finest examples of Italian, Spanish, French, Dutch, and English painting from the great age of European painting.