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Edmund Greacen

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Edmund Greacen
Lyme Art Colony
American, (September 18, 1876–October 4, 1949) In Lyme: 1910 - 1921
Edmund Greacen grew up in a New York City brownstone, staffed by Irish servants, that stood where part of Rockefeller Center is now. His father was an Irish immigrant of Scottish Presbyterian descent who married a rich American and, through his own shrewd judgment in the wholesale shoe trade, increased her fortune. Following a private school education, Greacen studied at New York University, where he received a bachelor of arts degree, but where his main interests seem to have been the high hurdles, banjo playing, his fraternity, and similar extracurricular activities. Eager to participate in the Spanish-American War after graduation, he was sent on an around-the-world tour by his father, who hoped travel would allay his son’s enthusiasm for soldiering. Greacen had already filled three sketchbooks, and his interest in art did grow on the trip. In 1899, at the age of twenty-three, he enrolled at the Art Students League, and, soon after, at the art school run by William Merritt Chase, where he studied with Chase, Robert Henri, Louis Mora, Frank DuMond, and Everett Shinn.

In late 1904 Greacen married Ethol Booth of New Haven and the following spring sailed with her, Chase, and about three dozen of Chase’s other students to Spain, on one of the art study tours that Chase became famous for. The Greacens stayed on in Europe, mainly in France, until 1909. Greacen became strongly attracted to Impressionism, and, in 1907, he moved his family to Giverny to be near Monet, who greatly influenced him even though the American saw little of the aging French master himself. He was close, however, to Monet’s stepdaughter Suzanne and her American husband, artist, Theodore Butler, as well as to other American painters in the village.

On his return to this country in 1909, Greacen participated in group exhibitions in New York and elsewhere. He was in the Artists’ Independent Exhibition of 1910, his Impressionist work there markedly different from the realism and social commentary of artists like John Sloan, George Luks, George Bellows, and Stuart Davis that made up the rest of the exhibition. Greacen had a one-man exhibition at the Folsom Galleries on Fifth Avenue in 1911 and, in 1914, another at the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio, where he received warm praise. He began doing some of the ‘portraits” of formal gardens of the wealthy that he became noted for.

Between 1910 and 1917, Old Lyme ad the Griswold House became the Greacen family’s haven from city living, a kind of American Giverny. They enjoyed the conviviality and the scenery, and they went to Old Lyme as often as they could for days or weeks at a time, in all seasons. Greacen painted some of his loveliest landscapes in Lyme and neighboring places.

World War I disrupted Greacen’s career. A school of art he established in 1917 lasted only about a year. He served six months in France with the French YMCA (The U.S. Army had turned down his application for active service because he was over forty). After the war, however, several honors came to him, among them election to associate member in the National Academy of Design in 1920 (full membership, 1935) and, in 1921, the $1,000 Shaw Purchase Prize of the Salmagundi Club.

In 1922, the same year he had a one-man exhibition at Macbeth Gallery, Greacen suggested and organized a pioneer artists’ cooperative, a non-profit gallery where established artists could keep their work on continuous exhibition. Artists would contribute works of art as yearly dues, and businessmen would provide the capital. The gallery, established the following year and located on the top floor of Grand Central Station, came to be known as Grand Central Art Galleries. It had as many as twenty exhibition rooms at times and was influential in furthering interest in American art. Travelling exhibitions from Grand Central later went to at least twenty cities, among them Hartford and New Britain, Connecticut. In 1924 Greacen began a related art school, also called Grand Central - the largest of its kind in New York City - which opened with 200 students, grew to more than 900, and lasted twenty years, until Greacen’s health failed. Among the many artists who taught there, besides Greacen himself, were Ivan Olinsky, Louis Mora, Arshile Gorky, and Greacen’s daughter, Nan Greacen Faure. Greacen believed in teaching technical competence but wanted to avoid forcing students to be either “modern” or “conservative.”

His responsibilities at Grand Central increasingly kept him in New York City, and he became more an indoor painter, often doing portraits as well as poetic cityscapes. Old Lyme was only a memory. From 1937 on, Greacen’s health was impaired by a series of strokes. For a few years the Greacens moved to Florida’s Gulf Coast, but they returned to the New York area shortly before the artist died in 1949.

Teddy Greacen laughed when one of his last students asked whether he looked through a piece of gauze when he painted. The artist knew that his kind of painting looked strange to art students of the post-World-War society, but he also knew that he still believed what he had once written” “...some of us like the fleeting beauty of the moment.”

A retrospective exhibition of Greacen’s work was organized by the Cummer Gallery of Art in Jacksonville, Florida in 1972.

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