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Lyme Art Colony
(June 27, 1857–August 4, 1915)
In Lyme: summers 1900-1915
Lewis Cohen’s first visit to Old Lyme in 1900 marked a watershed in his career. Previously known primarily as a figure and genre painter, Cohen turned to landscape painting under the influence of Henry Ward Ranger and the inspiration of the pastoral Connecticut countryside. These early visits to Old Lyme also affected his personal life. Until his death in 1915 he returned to the village nearly every summer and in 1909 purchased a house near the Griswold house.
Unlike many of his less affluent colleagues, Cohen was a gentleman painter in the classic tradition. A private income assured him a full range of opportunities for study and travel, and relieved him of the necessity to paint for a livelihood, though sales apparently came easy. After receiving his B.A. from Dartmouth College in 1878, he briefly studied medicine. At least partly because of ill health, however, he quit his studies in favor of travel, first to the Adirondacks and later to Colorado Springs, Colorado, where he remained for five years.
Presumably during this period Cohen began to pursue an art career in earnest. In 1884 he enrolled at the Slade School in London, and later studied with a succession of teachers. For nearly twenty years Cohen worked and studied abroad, only returning to the United States for periodic visits. In 1904 he permanently established his 67th Street studio in New York, where he worked except for summers at Old Lyme. By that time he had already exhibited at the Paris Salon (1903), and at the Royal Academy in London (1897, 1899, and 1901). His first New York gallery showing was in 1904 at the Clausen Galleries, where his work was commended for its “good feeling for nature, creditable achievement and abundant promise.” That promise was not fully recognized until 1911 when he was elected an associate of the National Academy of Design, awarded a silver medal at the Panama-Pacific Exposition, and honored with a one man exhibition at the City Art Museum of St. Louis.
Although active in the New York circles, Cohen identified himself most closely with the Old Lyme School. Cohen was remembered by his peers in the art colony for his humor, his extraordinary generosity and his ardent support of Miss Florence Griswold. In 1910 he was part of the small group of artists who, as a token of their gratitude, cleaned and repaired Miss Florence’s sadly neglected house while she was visiting friends in New York.
Cohen extended his generosity to his colleagues as well. Arthur Heming remembered Cohen visiting the Griswold house one morning to distribute gifts of little sketchboxes among the artists. His kindness wa apparent on a larger scale when, upon his death in 1915, he willed a half-interest in his Old Lyme home to his artist friend Frank Bicknell.