Vermadel Griswold (1891-1967)
Setting Up the Circus
Oil on canvas, 30 x 40 inches. Signed and dated lower left: "VERMADEL GRISWOLD/ 1935"
Enduring America: Selections from the Collection of Art and Peggy Hittner, Northern Arizona University Art Museum, April 7 - May 29, 2015.
Enduring America (catalogue).
Falk, Peter Hastings, ed., Who’s Who in American Art (Sound View Press, 1999); Correspondence files of The Milch Galleries, Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Art.
Acquired by Arlene Berman Fine Arts, New York, NY, from a folk art dealer around 1997 or 1998 (reportedly one of three circus paintings by Griswold which came out of a small country auction of circus-related materials in Connecticut). Sold to a private collector from whom it was reacquired by Arlene Berman Fine Arts in 2006. Acquired
from the foregoing, November 20, 2006.
Unlined canvas mounted on original stretcher. Inscribed “GRISWOLD” diagonally in upper left quadrant of reverse side of canvas. Later 4-inch gold frame.
Fig. 1 - Vermadel Griswold, Sideshow (private collection, New York, NY).
Vermadel (Rogers) Griswold was one of many very talented female artists of the early twentieth century whose careers were subordinated to those of their more prominent husbands. Born in Vermont in 1891, she married at the age of twenty-five. In 1920, she and her husband, Dr. Matthew H. Griswold (1887-1969), were listed in the U.S. Census as residents of Craftsbury, Vermont, where he served as a general practioner. By 1930, they had relocated to Berlin, Connecticut, a small community just south of New Britain. By this time Dr. Griswold was recognized as a leading oncologist; he served for a time as the chief of the cancer bureau for the State of Connecticut as well as in related national positions in Washington, D.C.
Although she was represented from the late 1930s through the late 1940s by the influential Milch Galleries of New York City, Griswold's talent apparently exceeded her professional ambitions. Surviving correspondence from Griswold to dealer Albert Milch reveals a reluctance on the part of the artist to promote or exhibit her work, preferring “to put the burden” on her dealer. “All I want to do is paint,” she wrote.* She was never identified as an artist in census records and apparently didn't view herself as a professional. Her self-effacing attitude toward her artistic achievements is a prevalent theme in much of her correspondence with her dealer. Despite this ambivalence, Griswold did exhibit at the National Academy in 1933, the Salons of America in 1934, the Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts in both 1937 and 1938 and at the Springfield Arts League in 1940. A painting entitled Sky Vision, appearing in a group showing of contemporary American art at Milch in 1940, received favorable mention from a critic for The New York Times. Health issues (she battled cancer herself), the turbulence of the war years and the continuing demands of her husband's career conspired to limit her artistic output.
Setting Up the Circus gives a bright, colorful, behind-the-scenes glimpse at the world of the circus, portraying not only the preparatory activities of the circus workers but also the sense of anticipation of the local residents in the foreground who watch intently as the circus begins to take shape. The composition is balanced and lively. The horses, a favorite subject for Griswold, are deftly drawn. While very few works by Griswold have come to light, at least two other circus subjects are known. One of these, Sideshow (Fig. 1), is a delightful vignette featuring circus promoters and performers working the crowd outside a circus sideshow tent.
* Correspondence from Vermadel Griswold to Albert Milch, February 2, 1940. Smithsonian Institution Archives of American Art, Milch Galleries correspondence files.