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"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.

 

Robert Brandegee (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 (18381891) 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.

Brandegee 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 succeeded Sarah Tuthill (1830–1882) as art teacher. He continued to teach there until 1903.

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 Brandegee. Courtesy
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 Porter,
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 Griffin.

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 Brandegee, 1910;
 photograph by Gertrude Kasebier. Courtesy of Archives,
Hill-Stead Museum.



Portrait of Austin Dunham Barney,
by Robert Brandegee. Private Collection.
 
 


Robert Brandegee. Private Collection.



 


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