"Farmington Artists and Their Times"
Robert Bolling Brandegee,
by Charles Leach, M.D.
Portrait of Robert Brandegee, by
Cecilia Beaux, 1917. Courtesy, Farmington
Village Green and Library Association.
(1849–1922) grew up in Berlin, CT, and studied
at E. L. Hart’s School for Boys in Farmington. He
later studied art briefly with Thomas Charles Farrer (1838–1891)
in New York. In 1872 he began an eight-year sojourn in Paris,
accompanied by artists Montague and Charles Noel Flagg, William
Faxon and Dwight Tryon, all of Hartford, and J. Alden Weir
(1852–1919) of New York.
was strongly influenced by the
theories of art critic and moralist John Ruskin (a teacher of Farrer’s), and emphasized them in his teachings. Ruskin favored
the accurate depiction of natural subjects, and for the
country-bred, nature-loving Brandegee this was very appropriate.
In fact, Brandegee did still-life paintings of natural subjects
and wrote about birds for the Farmington Magazine.
"Bend of the
Pequabuck," by Robert Brandegee, 1898.
Courtesy, Farmington Village Green and Library Association.
On his return to
America, Brandegee kept a studio in New York City but began
teaching in 1880 at Miss Porter’s School in Farmington, where he
as art teacher. He continued to teach there
He was a bit eccentric, it is said, and at times
suffered from depression. He lived at 36 High Street in a home
he called “Chateau Ingres” after his teacher’s teacher, Jean-Auguste-Dominique
Ingres. His was a musical and artistic family, and
they were an important part of the Farmington art scene for many
years. Brandegee was beloved by his students and had many
friends in the art world. He did not promote himself as other
artists did, and did not exhibit widely. He was, however, very
much respected by colleagues. For example, on his failing to
submit to a New York exhibition, the eminent American
Impressionist J. Alden Weir expressed great disappointment.
"Storm in the Meadows," by Robert
of the Farmington Historical Society.
In 1892 Brandegee founded with several
colleagues, including Frederic Edwin Church (1826–1900), the
Society of Hartford Artists. He later assisted in forming the
Connecticut League of Art Students in 1895. Students from these
schools often came with their instructors to Farmington to paint
en plein air. A favorite subject for these and many other
artists was the “bend in the Farmington River,” evidently near
the mouth of the Pequabuck.
He was a generous and public-spirited man who saw art as
belonging to everyone, not a luxury for the few. His landscapes
reflect his love of rambling in the Farmington area, and his
portraits are many and familiar. He painted Sarah Porter no less
than seven times. One of these portraits hangs in the
Porter Memorial; others are at the New Britain Museum of
American Art and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
Portrait of Sarah
by Robert Brandegee, 1880.
Brandegee and others painted murals on the walls of Farmington homes.
Many have been lost, but one remains at St. James Episcopal
Church on Mountain Road.
Mural by Robert Brandegee,
St. James Episcopal Church, Farmington.
Brandegee inspired the creation of the short-lived
Farmington Magazine, which fellow artist Walter Griffin
(1861–1935) illustrated. This treasure trove of Farmington
materials unfortunately lasted only from 1900 through 1902. Its
demise followed the death of Sarah Porter and the turmoil that
engulfed her school. Brandegee taught briefly for her successor,
Mrs. Mary Dow, in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y. Brandegee wrote on art
and nature, and Griffin contributed cover and inside
illustrations. A sort of “Farmington Renaissance” was stimulated
by Miss Porter’s energy and civic-mindedness, and the little
magazine expressed its ideals and achievements.
In the late nineteenth century, a network of artists developed
around Brandegee and his colleagues. This group of friends, who taught,
socialized and worked together, included Charles Foster; half-brothers Montague
and Charles Noel Flagg; William Gedney Bunce; Allen Butler Talcott; and Walter
Charles Foster (1850–1931) had studied in Paris with Brandegee’s teacher, Louis Jacquesson de
la Chevreuse. Foster taught for a time at the National Academy
of Design. A lifelong bachelor, he lived and worked in Farmington for many
years. Walter Griffin, the noted American
Impressionist painter, often visited Brandegee and Foster. He
taught at the Connecticut League of Art Students and at the Art Society of
Hartford, which became the Hartford Art School at the University of Hartford.
Walter Griffin employed a
rapid Impressionist style, replacing the darker Barbizon style that he had
learned during his years in France in the 1880s. Like his friends, he left
murals on Farmington walls and doors. He also published and sold portfolios of
sketches showing “interesting features of Farmington.” Griffin’s later years
were spent mostly in various European countries.
This old gang centered around Brandegee
broke up gradually with the deaths of Montague Flagg in 1915 and
of his half-brother Charles Noel Flagg and William G. Bunce in
1916. Brandegee died in 1922, and the last of his colleagues and
friends lived into the mid-1930s.
Theodate Pope Riddle posing for Robert
photograph by Gertrude Kasebier. Courtesy of Archives,
Portrait of Austin Dunham Barney,
by Robert Brandegee. Private Collection.
Robert Brandegee. Private Collection.
Farmington Historical Society,
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