Unportentious gem

On a quiet winter day–no snow squalls, no howling winds–I went to Hill-stead Museum in Farmington.  A lover of house museums of all types, I was quickly taken in by this one, because it really feels like the family is just in the next room.  Unlike Winterthur, so self-consciously gorgeous, this place has worn carpets and tchotchkes scattered over every level surface, just like you and I might have.

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s a showplace.

Self-taught architect Theodate Pope designed the house, completed in 1901, for her parents for their retirement.  Pope is well known enough to attract me, but I didn’t realize the art I would be seeing.  Purchased by her father, who clearly had an eye, the collection features several Manet, Whistler, and Monet paintings, as well as three Degas pieces, including this top-notch work.

As you can see, The Tub is clearly major-museum-worthy, part of a series of Degas’s experiments with the depiction of space.  See how he tilts the background forward, unnaturally flattening the scene.  This compression technique would go on to influence Matisse, and well, 20th century art in general.

Degas and Mary Cassatt, also well-represented in the house, learned this method from studying Japanese prints.  One room nearby is filled with the Asian prints Pope’s father collected, so that the house provides a mini art history lesson as well as beautiful pleasures.



Among his Monets are two of the Grainstack paintings, positioned opposite each other in one of the parlors.  Here is White Frost from 1889.




What makes these familiar works appear fresh is seeing them hanging above a settee, in a room comfortably furnished.  Of course, these rooms are loaded with invaluables–porcelains, silver, clocks, intricately carved knick-knacks, gorgeous inlay on what-not furniture.

I love the souvenirs Pope’s parents bought on their Grand Tour.  The pieces of this chess set are a charmer and also familiar, like something my mother had in her house.

The unportentiousness of the place is what makes it remarkable.  You and I could have a sit with a cup of hot tea and catch up.