Whiz-bang overniter -- Impressionists at Hartford

 ... an inexpensive getaway to Argenteuil on the Connecticut

by Don Norris

Monet, Manet, Renoir, Caillebotte, all came to the show at Hartford's Wadsworth Atheneum, in a spectacular display of Impressionism.

The event was called "The Impressionists at Argenteuil", which unfortunately closes on  December 3. But my wife Lorry and I took advantage of a free Thursday, then decided to leave late Wednesday after the SilverStringers' meeting, for the hundred-mile two-hour trip down to Hartford. In Connecticut.

(Many Melrose school parents will remember Lorry as a school nurse at several local elementary schools, and for a time, at the middle school. We have been retired for 14 years now).

As mini vacations go, the trip to Hartford was outstanding and it was cheap. Around a hundred and fifty dollars, most of which went for a room at the Airport Motel 6 -- not a bad place to stay if you are pinching pennies. We made reservations and the young lady -- obviously new and inexperienced -- mis-quoted the price by six dollars, but even at $44 net, it was inexpensive.

In looking for reservations, there were only a few rooms left, but the most expensive (a Marriott) at $200, was sold out. And as it turns out, we were lucky to have a room. It appears Hartford is a popular place to go. It is a lovely, small city, balancing beautiful old granite architecture with soaring skyscrapers sheathed with golden reflective glass.

Anyway, our inexpensive Motel 6 was at the airport, some 16 miles north of Hartford in the town of Winsor Locks. The problem was that, of all the new motels at the airport, the Motel 6 is just across the street from end of the main runway, and all evening long planes shook our building as they came in a few hundred feet over our heads. I felt I could hit them with a rock, they were so low.

The small stuff, the Cessnas and Beechcraft, were okay. But the big jets came in screaming. It was worse after they touched down as they reversed their engines to slow down -- sending a protracted blast of noise straight back as us.

So who can complain for forty four dollars? It was clean, neat and comfortable.

Somehow we forgot breakfast Thursday morning, grabbing a Danish and coffee just before our 11 a.m.time slot at the Wadsworth. That was mainly because Hartford is like Boston -- lots of narrow little streets, nothing very straight, and mostly one way. It took us almost 45 minutes to find the museum, which we had passed as we exited the Interstate! So we had a nice tour of town.

The show was marvelous. What was especially good was the fact that the curator was often able to match same-site paintings, where two artists, such as Monet and Renoir, stood almost side by side and painted the same scene. It was obvious they were together, for the paired paintings bore great similarities in style, choice of colors, mood, even brush strokes. And therefore, it was the differences that count, the approach, the liberties taken with composition, the angle of view, what was left out and what was left only by mere suggestion.

Even Caillebotte, who did not consider himself in the same class as his young Impressionist friends, did several beautiful paintings of boats along the Seine -- one could see that he was a designer of boats, professionally, for the masterful way he painted their graceful lines. The wealthy Caillebotte, incidentally, considered himself a sponsor of the Impressionists, often quietly doling out funds when the painters fell on hard times. He bought many of the groups' works, and in the end, donated them all to the State. His donations provide the basis for the collection at the Musee d'Orsay.

Argenteuil is/was a small town on the River Seine not too far from Paris, and it therefore was convenient to the plein aire artists. In fact, the railroad was established through the town in 1863, and it became a favorite with many of those artists who had taken to the new style called Impressionism.

While we were there, we found that the Hartford Museum had an excellent collection of American painters of the Hudson River School. There were also several works by some of "The Ten", American Impressionists painting around the turn of the century. It is an excellent museum, and is located right downtown.

Parking was on-street, some ten blocks away. Several large fenced in lots were reserved for State employees.

On the negative side was the rush out the Mass Pike, from Waltham to I-84 near Sturbridge. The traffic pattern was 80 miles an hour. No one did less than 70. Some buzzed up to a hundred, now and again. We saw a only one trooper handing out a ticket -- which makes one wonder how fast THAT fellow was going.

On the positive side was lovely ride over Connecticut Route 190, a rural road through the foothills of the Berkshires,  between Holland, Massachusetts, and Enfield, Connecticut. Small, beautiful towns, lovely farms, beautiful forests, all at a leisurely 45 miles an hour. You could actually SEE something at that speed.

Dinner that evening was at an Olive Garden in Enfield, a favorite of ours. A delightful meal with a delicious "zupa" and seafood Alfredo, with wine, was under forty dollars, including tip.

By the time this article gets to the reader, the "Impressionists at Argenteuil" will be dismantled. It was the best show we've seen this year -- of four significant shows, including Van Gogh's "Faces" at the MFA in Boston.

For those seniors who count their pennies, here's the way our 24-hour mini-vacation was spent:

Dinner for two at the Olive Garden: $37.
Motel 6 at Winsor Locks, $44.
Entrance fee for two, to "Argenteuil": $20
Lunch at Rein's Deli: $16..
Gasoline, 240 miles: $15.50.
Tolls, 2.25
Cards, memories: $15.
Total: $150.


December 1, 2000

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