Following the Connecticut Art Trail

The circuitous Connecticut Art Trail leads to 17 art-centric venues like world-class art museums, studios, house museums and estates, all easily accessible from the area’s bridges and ferries. This itinerary—from Greenwich, along the New York border, up and east to the Cross Sound Ferry terminal in New London—focuses on venues within an hour’s drive from one another and can be adapted for a day-trip, an overnighter or a longer stay.

Greenwich, on Connecticut’s Gold Coast, is rich with galleries, antique dealers and the remarkable Bruce Museum of Arts and Science, making it a sophisticated first stop. Here, there’s a sculpture by Auguste Rodin and paintings signed by Childe Hassam, Emil Carlsen and Leonard and Mina Fonda Ochtman—all associated with the Cos Cob Art Colony.

In the 1890s, the Colony painted en plein air at the Bush-Holley Historic Site (c. 1730), just a few miles from the Bruce. Today, its American Impressionist collection and restored grounds and gardens make it easy to imagine Hassam and John Henry Twachtman teaching there.

The route to the 153-acre Weir Farm National Historic Site, about 30 miles north of Cos Cob, nears the Center for Contemporary Printmaking in Norwalk, where works are on view in the 19th century stone carriage house. Julian (aka J.) Alden Weir, the Father of American Impressionists, purchased the farm in 1882 and he and his colleagues—Twachtman, Hassam, Theodore Robinson, Willard Metcalf plus Albert Pinkham Ryder and John Singer Sargent—painted their best work there over the next 37 years. Indoors, bucolic landscapes are on display within the fully restored and historically furnished house. Outdoors, the 60-acre park looks just as it did originally. For those who find the urge to create their own works, complimentary art supplies are provided. In nearby Ridgefield, the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum delights enthusiasts of cutting-edge art with changing exhibits by emerging and mid-career artists. (The famous Sultana Salt Caves are also just two miles from the town center.)

From Ridgefield, it’s a 30-mile drive northeast, mostly along Route 202 in the unspoiled Litchfield Hills, to storybook Washington. The picturesque road passes The Silo, home to an art gallery, shop and cooking school; in town, the Washington Art Association’s gallery has a varied rotation of exhibits. Woodbury, “the antiques capital of Connecticut” is just 10-miles further and a must-stop destination for collectors of authentic 18th and 19th century American Federal antiques.

From Woodbury, it’s 25 miles south to New Haven, where there are two world-class museums just footsteps from the New Haven Green. History buffs should head to The Yale University Art Gallery to see paintings of the American Revolution by George Washington’s aide, Colonel John Trumbull. Animal aficionados should visit the Louis Kahn-designed Yale Center for British Art to admire Paul Mellon’s collection of sporting and animal paintings, considered the world’s best.

It takes an hour from New Haven to Farmington’s Hill-Stead, where masterpieces by French Impressionists include works by Cassatt, Degas, Manet, Monet and Whistler displayed in a gracious mansion overlooking a sweeping lawn. Ten miles east, in Hartford, there are old masters at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum (Trumbull Kitchen is a perfect lunch stop) and 20th century American works at the Art Gallery at the University of St. Joseph. En route to New London, the Florence Griswold Museum—a former boarding house in Old Lyme—displays American Impressionists just 13 miles from the ferry.

Delamar Hotel
In Greenwich, the contemporary waterfront Delamar Hotel near the Bruce Museum boasts marina views from the Lounge and l’escale restaurants.

The Mayflower Grace
In Washington, the luxe, antiques-filled Mayflower Grace offers 30 rooms, a stunning spa and Jonathan Cartwright’s recently refurbished The Muse.

The Study at Yale
In New Haven, The Study at Yale, near the Green, is a sleek, contemporary hotel with farm coastal cooking at the Heirloom Restaurant.

irvina lew

Irvina Lew is an author and freelance contributor to guidebooks, magazines and websites who shares intriguing stories about the world’s best destinations including hotels, restaurants, spas, cruises and safaris.