White and Tryon find inspiration in New England for 50 years

“The Freshness of Spring,” pastel on paper by Henry Cooke White.
“The Freshness of Spring,” pastel on paper by Henry Cooke White.

"Shipmates for Fifty Years" at The Cooley Gallery in Old Lyme is the first exhibition to celebrate the artwork and long-term friendship of Henry Cooke White (1861-1952) and Dwight William Tryon (1849-1925).

Both men were born in Hartford and found endless inspiration in the New England landscape and shoreline. Tryon settled in South Dartmouth, Mass., and White, who became a member of the Lyme Art Colony, ultimately built a home near the Long Island Sound in Waterford's Jordon Cove.

"One may travel long and never find the same or as fine a country as New England," Tryon wrote to White. "And this is right; to the properly balanced mind, the charm of one's native soil speaks a deeper language than any other."

Jeff Cooley, owner of the Cooley Gallery, considers himself lucky to have recently acquired a number of paintings by Tryon and White from a client who was moving to Washington State and selling his art collection.

Cooley already had works by both artists but says, "All of a sudden I had six Tryon works - it's rare to find that number of pictures (by him) and not only terrific pastels, but some really neat oils by Henry White.

"I love Tonalism, and Tryon was one of the great geniuses of the Tonalist aesthetic in America," Cooley adds. "He was just an exquisite painter of mood and atmosphere and using the landscape as the jumping off point for that."


Tryon already was an established landscape painter - although only in his mid-twenties - when he met the 14-year-old White at his studio, which was on the top floor of the long gone Charter Oak Insurance Company building in downtown Hartford.

"White was from a very well-to-do family in Hartford," Cooley says. "His dad was the head probate court judge in Hartford. One day White and his friend were playing around on the top floor of the building. Tryon's door was open and White looked in. He always liked drawing. Tryon invited him in and before long White became Tryon's protégé, taking art lessons from him on Saturday mornings, and that was sort of the beginning of it all."

In 1884 White moved to Manhattan where he took classes at the Art Students League. He also joined a private class taught twice a week by Tryon, who had a studio in the city.

Cooley comments that this was an important period for both men.

"Tryon was developing his signature style as an artist, which would have a decisive influence on White," he says. "A reverence for the landscape and its poetic elements formed the basis of their shared aesthetic."

Although Cooley points out that Tryon was a big influence on White and White imitated Tryon to some extent, he says that White also had his very own way of looking at things - a more impressionistic style.

"One thing they both loved doing was pastels," Cooley says. "White got the idea to do pastels from Tryon." But, he notes, the men's styles were very different. As an example, Tryon's "Early Spring Morning" and White's "In the Meadows" are pastels of approximately the same size and design yet "Early Spring Morning" is typical of Tryon's pastels in its layering of chalk pigment and complexity of technique while "In the Meadows" was more briskly executed as White's pastels often were conceived spontaneously - en plein air.

Cooley derived the title for the show, "Shipmates for Life," from a quote by Tryon.

"Tryon was looking for somebody to write his biography and asked White to do so. White sort of demurred and said, 'I'm not really a writer,' and Tryon said, 'White, we've been shipmates for 50 years. There's nobody that knows me better than you.'

"They loved boating, they loved the sea, they loved sailing, they loved fishing," Cooley says, "and even though the vast majority of the work in the show is landscapes, they both at one time or another painted the sea.

"It's a very quiet, contemplative show," Cooley adds. "It doesn't bang you over your head with color and brushwork and all that kind of stuff. They're the kinds of pictures that you really need to sit with and take in. So it's not a flashy show in that sense. But just to have six great Tryons together with 20 really fine Henry Cooke Whites is exciting."


What: “Shipmates for Fifty Years”; exhibit of work by Henry Cooke White and Dwight William Tryon

Where: Cooley Gallery, 25 Lyme St., Old Lyme

When: Through April 30

Info: Call (860) 434-8807 or visit www.cooleygallery.com


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