Wadsworth Atheneum

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Wadsworth Atheneum
Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut.JPG
Wadsworth Atheneum
Wadsworth Atheneum is located in Connecticut
Wadsworth Atheneum
Location 25 Atheneum Sq., Hartford, Connecticut
Coordinates 41°45′48″N 72°40′26″W / 41.76333°N 72.67389°W / 41.76333; -72.67389Coordinates: 41°45′48″N 72°40′26″W / 41.76333°N 72.67389°W / 41.76333; -72.67389
Area less than one acre
Built 1842 – July 31, 1844
Architect Alexander Jackson Davis and Ithiel Town
Architectural style Gothic Revival[2][3]
Governing body Wadsworth Atheneum
NRHP Reference # 70000709[1]
Added to NRHP October 6, 1970
Wadsworth Atheneum
Established 1844
Location 600 Main Street, Hartford, Connecticut
Director Susan Lubowsky Talbott[4]
Website http://www.wadsworthatheneum.org

The Wadsworth Atheneum is one of the oldest continually operating art museums in the United States.[5] It has significant holdings of French and American Impressionist paintings, Hudson River School landscapes, modernist masterpieces and contemporary works, as well as extensive holdings in early American furniture and decorative arts.

The museum is located at 600 Main Street in a distinctive castle-like building in downtown Hartford, Connecticut, the state's capital. With 196,000 square feet (18,200 m2), the museum is the largest art museum in the state of Connecticut. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970.[1]

Museum history[edit]

The Wadsworth, as it is most commonly known, was constructed on the site of the family home of Daniel Wadsworth[6] in the heart of downtown Hartford. Its architects were Alexander Jackson Davis and Ithiel Town, who designed the "castle" that is the Atheneum's oldest building. Construction began in 1842 after the museum was incorporated on June 1 of that year. While "1842" can be seen clearly above the building's name above the front doors, the museum itself did not open until July 31, 1844. It has been operating continuously since then.

The Wadsworth family, being one of the oldest and most affluent in the city contributed numerous valuable pieces of art to the museum to be displayed at the time the Atheneum opened. The first collection consisted of 78 paintings, two marble busts, one portrait miniature, and one bronze sculpture.

The Wadsworth has also been utilized since its beginning as a place for dramatic and dance performances, exhibits of historical artifacts, social functions, and benefits.

In 2001, the museum announced a large-scale $100 million expansion designed by the Amsterdam-based architects UNStudio;[7] the architects were chosen from a short list of innovative design teams, including Zaha Hadid, Thom Mayne, and Brad Cloepfil.[8] The design required demolishing the Goodwin Building, put up in 1969, and enclosing the Avery Courtyard.[9] However, the proposal was scrapped in 2003 due to fundraising difficulties and changes in the museum's leadership.[10]

The Wadsworth struggled financially in the decade before 2008 and went through five directors and three acting directors in that time. In fiscal year 2006, the museum had a deficit of about $284,000, and in the 2007 fiscal year the deficit was $540,000. In October 2007, the museum abandoned a planned expansion into the former Hartford Times building. The project, originally expected to cost $16 million, was later estimated to cost $19 million, with higher operating costs than originally expected.[11]

In March 2010, the museum announced the start of a comprehensive renovation project across all five of the museum’s buildings, which will result in the addition of 16,000 square feet (1,500 m2) of refurbished gallery space and the complete reinstallation of the museum’s permanent collections of European art, European decorative arts, and contemporary art. The first phase of the $33 million renovation, designed by the Hartford-based architecture firm Smith Edwards McCoy, was completed in 2015.[12][13]

The museum is a member of the North American Reciprocal Museums program.

Structure and contents[edit]

The structure itself consists of the original, castle-like building, plus 4 wings that have been added onto it since it was built. The museum is home to approximately 50,000 objects, including ancient Roman, Greek, and Egyptian bronzes; paintings from the Renaissance, Baroque, and French and American Impressionist eras, among others; 18th-century French porcelains (including Meissen and Sèvres); Hudson River School landscapes; early American clothing and decorations; early African-American art and historical artifacts; and more. The collections span more than 5,000 years of world history.

Nathan Hale statue by Enoch Smith Woods

Just outside the "castle" is a statue of Nathan Hale, dated 1899, by Enoch S. Woods. A short distance away, within the Connecticut State Capitol is another, better-known sculpture of Hale by Bela Pratt, a copy of his original at Yale University.

Museum firsts[edit]

Since its beginning, the Wadsworth has had a long tradition of "firsts".

In 1933, the Wadsworth sponsored George Balanchine's immigration to the United States from the Soviet Union. Shortly after his immigration, Balanchine founded the School of American Ballet, which led to the formation of the New York City Ballet. He then chose to have the Producing Company of the School of American Ballet's first performances at the Avery Memorial Theatre of Wadsworth in December 1934, including his first ballet choreographed in America, Serenade.[14] This is arguably the most important "first" in Wadsworth history.

The museum was the first in America to acquire pieces by Salvador Dalí, Balthus, Frederic Church, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Piet Mondrian, and many other famous artists. Under the directorship of A. Everett 'Chick' Austin, the first American exhibition of surrealism was shown at the Wadsworth in 1931, and the first major U.S. Picasso retrospective was held in 1934.[15] Also in 1934, the world premiere of the opera Four Saints in Three Acts by Gertrude Stein and Virgil Thomson was held at the Atheneum.


Susan Lubowsky Talbott became museum director on May 1, 2008.[11] She stated that one of her top goals would be to attract visitors "who would never have otherwise thought of coming here". She previously had been director of Smithsonian Arts at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. for three years, where she was responsible for budgeting and planning for the nine arts institutions within the Smithsonian. Before that, she was director and CEO of the Des Moines Art Center from 1998 to 2005, where she was given credit for doubling attendance in her first two years. She led that museum into forming partnerships with more than 100 community groups.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2010-07-09. 
  2. ^ Darbee, Herbert C. (August 25, 1969). "Wadsworth Atheneum" (PDF). National Register of Historic Places - Nomination and Inventory. National Park Service. Retrieved 25 May 2012. 
  3. ^ "Wadsworth Atheneum" (PDF). Photographs. National Park Service. Retrieved 25 May 2012. 
  4. ^ Press release
  5. ^ The Redwood Library and Athenaeum in Newport, Rhode Island was founded in 1747, and opened a private museum in 1750. Charles Willson Peale opened a public museum on the second floor of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1786, and charged admission. The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, organized in 1805, opened its public museum in 1806, and charged admission of 25 cents. The Peale Museum in Baltimore, Maryland opened its doors to the public in 1814.
  6. ^ "Wadsworth Atheneum scrapbooks, 1899-1963". Archives of American Art. Retrieved 31 Oct 2011. 
  7. ^ Julia Halperin (January 25, 2015), Wadsworth Atheneum restores spaces it very nearly lost The Art Newspaper.
  8. ^ Julie V. Iovine (February 17, 2001), Hartford Museum Chooses a Novel Architect New York Times.
  9. ^ Noted Hartford Museum Unveils Its New Design New York Times, June 22, 2002.
  10. ^ Julia Halperin (January 25, 2015), Wadsworth Atheneum restores spaces it very nearly lost The Art Newspaper.
  11. ^ a b c Maker, Elizabeth, "Smithsonian Arts Director Takes Top Job at Wadsworth Museum", The New York Times, Connecticut and the Region section, February 24, 2008, p CT6
  12. ^ "The Wadsworth Atheneum - RENEW". 
  13. ^ Julia Halperin (January 25, 2015), Wadsworth Atheneum restores spaces it very nearly lost The Art Newspaper.
  14. ^ Steichen, James (Spring 2012). "The Stories of Serenade: Nonprofit History and George Balanchine's "First Ballet in America"". Princeton University: Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies. 
  15. ^ Perl, Jed. (2012-08-24) Jed Perl: The Barnes Foundation's Disastrous New Home | New Republic. Tnr.com. Retrieved on 2013-08-02.

External links[edit]