It is so easy to overlook what is right under our nose. For seventy-five years at Hill-Stead, we have admired the paintings on the walls without considering the bigger picture of how they got there. Realizing we ought to, we began to look more closely, and what we found is extraordinary.
The artwork now at the museum is only a fraction—a tip of the iceberg—of what was once there. Self-taught and daring as a collector, Theodate’s father Alfred bought the art of his contemporaries, the Impressionists, who were then little-known in this country. He acquired over forty Impressionist masterpieces that we have traced to their current owners around the globe: a third Monet haystack; a second Degas jockeys; landscapes by Pissarro and Sisley; even a stunning Renoir painting of a girl and her cat. More astonishing still is how many left the museum not by his choice, but rather his daughter’s, and long after his death, likely to fund her own creative endeavors, including the school she founded to honor him, Avon Old Farms.
What came into focus as we recreated his collection was another marvel, the collector himself. Alfred was exceptionally generous, curious, and caring. He supported Theodate’s unconventional choices and introduced her to amazing art and design as she searched for the path to a meaningful life. He lovingly mentored her on her chosen (and challenging) one in the man’s world of architecture, advising that at times she “sugar” and others “hit them in the plexus.” And he thought far beyond himself and his family. He donated the present-day equivalent of millions to schools of all kinds, none of which were his alma mater, because he never finished his formal education. (Aha! That’s why Theodate chose a school for boys as the way to memorialize him!)
This important and influential figure has stood quietly in the shadows of Hill-Stead. Now, at the close of our Diamond Anniversary, we move him into the spotlight. Our new exhibition, Alfred Pope: An Evolution of Ingenuity is a tribute that reunites his collection and tells his story at long last.
We invite you to come see the exhibition and learn more about the person who helped make Hill-Stead possible. At this time of year – in the spirit of giving and doing for others – he is a figure of great inspiration!
Warmly, with best holiday wishes,
Dr. Anna Swinbourne
Executive Director & CEO