Western MA Wanderings (in CT!): Wadsworth Atheneum

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There is nothing in this world I love quite so much as paintings of other paintings. These early modern visual inventories of private collections can captivate me for hours–so many tiny masterpieces, both real and imagined, cover the walls of grand painted estates!

Luckily, the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, CT (just barely on the MA border, which is enough to include it in my Western Mass adventure category!) is totally into paintings-of-paintings too. So much so, in fact, that they re-installed one of their grandest galleries to mirror the aesthetics of Giovanni Paolo Panini’s 1749 Interior of a Picture Gallery with the Collection of Cardinal Silvio Valenti Gonzaga (pictured above). What more could a museum nerd ask for?

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Little did I expect to find my painterly crush, J. M. W. Turner, tucked away in Hartford! This amazing 1832 oil painting, Van Tromp’s Shallop at the Entrance of the Scheldt, was very hard to leave. Thanks to his most famous work, The Slave Ship, I often associate Turner with bright, blurry flashes of color, but I love the way the mists and clouds enshroud the pale sails in this work.

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Stunning Sol LeWitt murals add color and life to the main entrance and the space near the European galleries.

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I may have mentioned a few (million) times that I absolutely love cabinets of curiosities: so the Wadsworth’s new wunderkammer-style room won my heart in an instant! Vinyl text featuring about natural history and the human place in the world float around the specimens and oddities displayed on the highest parts of the walls.

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The only thing I like better than paintings of paintings are paintings that include tiny books! Among the Cardinal’s collection, apparently, were many volumes exploring natural history, including the botanical illustrations I’ve captured in the detail here. I’m pretty sure that’s corn depicted in the smallest book, which is a testament to how quickly the plant–imported from the Americas a few centuries prior–made its way into the academic mainstream in Europe.

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I was never fortunate enough to visit the Wadsworth Atheneum before their recent renovations, but the new installations that I saw were beautifully curated and a sight to behold! Now all they need is to commission a contemporary artist to create a painting that includes all of the works in the Wadsworth’s collection…

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