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In May 2022, an ACE group travelled to the US states of Connecticut and Massachusetts to explore the Great Art Collections of New England. Our tour, led by art history expert Sarah Burles, offered ACE travellers the opportunity to view some of the world’s most spectacular collections of work of art, amassed over time by a fascinating array of patrons. Here, Tour Manager and member of the ACE Product Development team, Amelia Phillips, shares her travel diary delving into some of the highlights of the tour.

 

 

When the first visit on a tour is to a gallery featuring paintings by Gauguin, Picasso, Monet and Renoir, one might wonder just what can follow – but our tour of the Yale University Art Gallery was just the beginning of a series of visits that seemed to take in ever more breathtaking art collections as the days went on.

 

Guided by ACE Tour Director Sarah Burles, an expert in art history who spent 12 years working at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, over the course of our tour we surveyed artworks by celebrated artists ranging from Rembrandt to Sol Le Witt via Gainsborough, Mary Cassatt and Winslow Homer, and gained an in-depth understanding of the tastes and motivations of a range of patrons and collectors.

 

But back to that first day, in the spring sunshine of leafy New Haven, where the ACE group were treated to a whistle-stop tour through the canon of Western art history at the Yale University Art Gallery, before enjoying a guided tour of the galleries at the Yale Center for British Art next door. The Center contains the collection amassed throughout the 20th century by Paul Mellon, an American philanthropist with a passion for racehorses. Art enthusiasts may recognise that he also gives his name to an important study centre in London’s Bedford Square, at the cutting edge of research into British art history.

 

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Yale University Art Gallery © Amelia Phillips

 

At Yale, in amongst portraits of Queen Elizabeth I and landscapes by Constable were interspersed pieces by contemporary artist Marc Quinn: the 2017 mixed media work Thames River Water Atlas speaks to the Turner seascapes on view not far away, whilst a 2014 history painting displaying Ukrainian resistance provided an especially powerful and confronting encounter.

 

A retrospective on artist Bridget Riley rounded off our visit to Yale, before we returned to our classic hotel in the heart of Connecticut, to enjoy some wonderful American hospitality.

 

As the tour continued, the ACE group were privileged to see many more paintings, sculptures and installations of exceptionally high quality. However, not all of them were displayed in the setting of an art museum. Hill-Stead, in the pretty rural town of Farmington, is an elegant New England weatherboarded house designed by Theodate Pope Riddle, the fourth registered female architect in the US. This beautifully preserved home contains paintings by Degas, Manet, Whistler and Monet, and prints by Millet and Dürer amongst others.

 

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Hill-Stead © Amelia Phillips

 

We also paid a visit to Chesterwood, the summer estate and studio of American sculptor Daniel Chester French, located close to the historical town of Stockbridge, as well as the nearby Norman Rockwell Museum, devoted to the illustrator whose work chronicling 20th century American life graced many covers of The Saturday Evening Post.

 

Our next stop was the small, manicured town of Williamstown, home to Williams College, a private liberal arts college. Tucked away here is a truly remarkable art gallery – the Clark Institute, founded by Sterling and Francine Clark in 1955. This exceptionally elegant art museum has been beautifully extended in recent years by Japanese architect Tadao Ando.

 

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Peonies by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, c. 1880, Clark Art Institute © Amelia Phillips

 

Stepping into the light-filled gallery housing an extensive collection of Impressionist paintings (the Clark owns no fewer than 38 Renoirs), which Sarah talked us through with great insight and passion, was a real highlight of the tour for many. Absorbing what we had seen whilst sitting outside in the dappled shade enjoying an iced coffee in perfect weather rounded off a very memorable morning.

 

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The Clark Art Institute © Amelia Phillips

 

A real contrast – but equally fascinating – was our next visit, in nearby North Adams, where abandoned industrial mill buildings have been transformed into the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. This extensive site was brought to life by our guide, who introduced the group to highlights including Louise Bourgeois’ arresting sculpture The Couple and Spencer Finch’s incredible LED light installation Cosmic Latte (inspired by the Milky Way)! We also enjoyed an immersion in James Turrell’s serene and contemplative piece Skyspace – versions of which some of the group had also experienced in the UK, at Houghton Hall in Norfolk and Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens in Cornwall.

 

The next day of our tour involved a journey along the historic Mohawk Trail back towards Boston, with a stop en route in Worcester for a visit to its excellent art museum. The final nights of our tour were spent in the heart of Cambridge – a city in its own right in the suburbs of Boston, and home to Harvard University campus. It was wonderful to be based in amongst the city’s green spaces and august college buildings, where preparations were beginning to get underway for ‘commencement’ (graduation).

 

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Harvard Art Museum © Amelia Phillips

 

No visit to Cambridge would be complete without a tour of Harvard Art Museum, where a particular highlight was a room devoted to the collection of alumnus Maurice Wertheim (class of 1906), where masterpieces by Degas, Monet, Renoir and Manet rubbed shoulders. Wertheim bequeathed his collection to Harvard to be studied and enjoyed by students and scholars, stipulating that it be kept together in a single gallery, and our study group certainly benefited from this great example of American philanthropy.

 

The final art museums on our tour were in Boston. The Museum of Fine Arts, with its rotunda painted by John Singer Sargent, fascinating ‘Arts of the Americas’ galleries, and display of Paul Revere silver (including the famous Liberty Bowl) is an incredibly impressive showcase of the very best of American art, but its collections do not stop there. There are also galleries devoted to the arts of Africa, Asia, Europe and the ancient world. Our Tour Director Sarah gave another excellent tour of highlights including a Rembrandt self-portrait, and participants then had time to explore the museum independently.

 

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The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston. Image by King of Hearts licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

 

Throughout the tour, the ACE group saw works of art housed in very different contexts – from purpose-built art museums to converted buildings and domestic settings. Our final visit was to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, where paintings, tapestries and furnishings are displayed in an Italianate palazzo, provided a further contrast and insight into the mind of great collector.

 

As the tour came to an end (and we bought as many museum guidebooks as could be fitted into our luggage!) it was time to reflect on a week of outstanding art, remarkable architecture and fascinating stories of prescient American collectors and patrons. For any art lover, this part of the world is a ‘must-see’ – and under the guidance of our Tour Director Sarah, and with all travel arrangements between the different galleries and locations comfortably taken care of, there is arguably no better way to experience it than on this ACE tour.

 

 


 

We are very pleased to be repeating our itinerary next spring – to find out more or to book your place, please click here, or if you have any questions about any aspect of the tour, please feel free to contact the ACE team on 01223 841055. We would be delighted to welcome you to the Great Art Collections of New England in 2023.