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A treasure trove

Tucked in the pages of decades-old magazines - Vanity Fair, American Artist, Saturday Evening Post - were small, glorious, evocative pastels.This was how Henry C. White had stored his pastels away, to protect the art. And there they remained for years, these small works that captured the stunning scenes of nature he beheld.After White died in 1952 at age 91, those magazines remained closed away in bureaus in the room that had been his studio and has since become his grandson George's library.George White says, "We had drawers full of them. We knew they were there, but we didn't know how many. We thought there were 50 or 60. We didn't realize the magnitude of them."One day, Florence Griswold Museum director Jeff Andersen was at the house, and he flipped through some of the pastels and was impressed enough to suggest an exhibition. So they began examining them in earnest."There was more and more and more," White says. "Those 70 (in the exhibition) were chosen from 200 we sent over to the museum."While the discovery was vital in and of itself - the pastels had never been shown - it also served as an important way to appreciate White in a new, vibrant way.White's renown came for his Tonalist landscapes, but he also created literally hundreds of pastels between 1890 and 1930. Some of those pastels served as studies for paintings, but some were works unto themselves.Andersen writes in the exhibition catalog foreword that White's pastels "are breathtaking in their variety, intensity of color, and, at times, abstract boldness. Here is a new side of White's art making, in which he experimented with color and texture while working out-of-doors."The pastels offer some surprises, too, when it comes to White's work and his distinctive opinions. He once said he preferred the muted tints of spring to the "spinach" greens of summer, but his pastels bristle with vibrancy as he works with differents colors and texture.And while, in his later years, he dismissively (yet entertainingly) referred to some Impressionist work as "dots and dashes," his pastels show a definite reflection of Impressionism.Exhibition curator Amy Kurtz Lansing says that when she first saw White's pastels, she was amazed by "how fresh they were. They haven't been exposed to light, so all the colors are still fresh and bright."Beyond that, she says, "They show he was much more experimental than people realize. There is a poetic beauty to his oil paintings, but there is also a certain consistency. His pastels show he wasn't following formulas. He went outside and looked at the landscape with fresh eyes."White sketched outside almost every day, and he adored the outdoors, a love that dated back to when he was a kid growing up in Hartford and exploring the fields on the city's outskirts and the Connecticut River banks.He grew to love southeastern Connecticut, too. Many of the landscapes on view reveal gorgeous views of local scenes. "Across Niantic Bay," for instance, dazzles with the hints of pink in the sunset sky softly reflecting off the water, and the trees looking shadowy, as things do just before sunset drops into night.On display at the Florence Griswold Museum, too, is White's portrait of his family house in Waterford. He was teaching at Hartford Public High School when, in 1891, he visited Waterford and became enamoured of a point of land on the Long Island Sound. White bought the land and designed and built a house, creating the place where his family spent every summer.Eventually, in 1914, the Whites moved that house to the parcel of land next door and built on the original lot a new house designed by Philadelphia architect Wilson Eyre of Philadelphia.The exhibition at the Florence Griswold Museum boasts White's 1903 pastels of the Lieutenant River and Hamburg Cove. White and his family actually spent the springs and falls between 1903 and 1907 at Miss Florence's boarding house, at the suggestion of fellow Hartford artist Allen B. Talcott.Later in White's life, his style of art fell out of vogue, as abstract expressionism came in. George White says he and his brother, Nelson, have always had great regard for their grandfather's talent; "I don't think that's just family prejudice." He recalls the scorn laid on his grandfather's generation, the dismissive descriptions of "sentimental artists" at the turn of the century."We want to get his work out there and get the credit and regard that we feel he deserves," White says.k.dorsey@theday.com

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