Connecticut Spring Antiques Show

The Cooley Gallery announces Shipmates for Fifty Years, paintings by Dwight William Tryon (1849-1925) and Henry Cooke White (1861-1952). Shipmates for Fifty Years is on view from March 22 to March 23 at the Connecticut Spring Antiques Show, the nation’s leading show featuring pre-1840?s American furniture, and then travels to the Cooley Gallery in Old Lyme, where the exhibition will be on view through the end of April.

“We were congenial in every way, in our tastes in art and literature and in our sports and diversions,” wrote Henry C. White, reminiscing of his friendship with Dwight William Tryon. Tryon was one of the leading American landscape painters of his generation, a Tonalist sympathetic to the Transcendentalism of Emerson and Thoreau. Tryon’s closest protégé, White remained faithful to the precepts of Tonalism, even while adopting an Impressionist approach. Both men were born in Hartford, and found lifelong inspiration in New England. Tryon would discover his ideal motif in South Dartmouth, Massachusetts; White chose a home near the ocean in Waterford, Connecticut. This exhibition by the Cooley Gallery is unique, in that it is the first to celebrate the work of both artists—friends for half a century—together.

White was fourteen years old when he first met Tryon at his studio in Hartford in 1875. Tryon, though only in his mid-twenties, was already an established landscape painter.

Heeding Tryon’s advice, in 1884 White moved to New York City and enrolled in classes at the Art Students League. Additionally, twice a week he joined a private class taught by Tryon in his Manhattan studio. This was an important period for both men. In the mid-1880s Tryon was developing his signature style as an artist, one which would have a decisive influence on White. A reverence for the landscape and its poetic elements formed the basis of their shared aesthetic.

White wrote, “….we both had an intense love of nature, and especially, a passionate fondness for the sea….” When late in life Tryon insisted that White be his biographer, he quite naturally selected a nautical analogy: “You know me as well as anyone. We have been shipmates for fifty years.” Large passages of his biography are devoted to White’s recollections of days spent on the water, fishing and sailing off the New England coast.

Some works in the Cooley Gallery exhibition provide an anecdotal window into the relationship between the artists, as in White’s small oil sketch South Dartmouth, painted during a visit to the summer home Tryon had recently purchased. Others offer an opportunity to survey the artists’ similarities and disparities. Tryon’s Early Spring Morning and White’s In the Meadows are pastels of nearly identical size and design. Early Spring Morning is typical of Tryon’s pastels in its layering of chalk pigment and complexity of technique. “Some of his pastels,” wrote White, “were the result of from twenty to thirty different processes of under-and over-working.” By contrast, In the Meadows was briskly executed, the bare paper left as a middle tone throughout the drawing. White’s pastels were often conceived spontaneously en plein air.

Just as they shared experimental efforts with pastel paper, Tryon and White also placed bulk orders together for wood panels on which to paint in oils. If White preferred the 1/8 inch thick panels in part for their easy portability while working in the field, Tryon favored wood surfaces for many of his studio pieces, perhaps for the warm undertone of raw mahogany, as well as for the repeated scraping and repainting that a wood ground could sustain.

Typical of Tryon’s late landscapes is Twilight, Autumn, a richly worked panel depicting the vibrant color harmonies of the season. Its composition is a variation on Tryon’s favorite theme, set on a horizontal axis, the space divided by a series of trees placed at deliberate intervals. This particular design—the dominant one or two trees set left of center and flanked on each side by distant groves—appears to have been popular with the artist at least from 1908 onward. White’s Moonrise takes a similar premise, but is a more conspicuously formal work (a related pastel of the same title is in the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C.). Although it’s less concerned with evoking deep space, Moonrise succeeds in summoning the mystery of an autumn evening in New England.

Perhaps the most telling difference between the two was that Tryon’s major paintings were memories of South Dartmouth scenery, rendered palpable in his New York studio during the winters; White was more inclined to work on site, so his paintings and pastels are apt to be concerned with the tangible facts of observed landscape. Nonetheless, his works never come across as mere copies of what was before him, and reflect his heartfelt accord with Tryon, who once noted, “The less imitation the more suggestion and hence more poetry.”

“One may travel long and never find the same or as fine a country as New England,” Tryon wrote to White. “And this is right; to the properly balanced mind the charm of one’s native soil speaks a deeper language than any other.”

Through the work of these two friends, Dwight Tryon and Henry White, the charm of their native soil speaks to us still.

“Shipmates for Fifty Years” is on view Saturday, March 22 from 10am to 5pm and Sunday, March 23 from 11am to 4pm at The Hartford Armory, 360 Broad Street in Hartford. The paintings will then travel to The Cooley Gallery, 25 Lyme Street in Old Lyme, where they will be on display through the end of April, and available for viewing online any time.

Founded in 1981 and located in the heart of historic Old Lyme, the Cooley Gallery specializes in fine American paintings from the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries, including the Hudson River School, American Impressionism, and select contemporary artists. Regular gallery hours are Tuesday-Saturday, 10am to 5pm. Please call (860) 434-8807 or visit for additional information. The Cooley Gallery is located at 25 Lyme Street, Old Lyme, CT 06371.