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Completed during his second of three summers at the burgeoning artists' colony in picturesque Old Lyme, Connecticut, May Night is Willard Metcalf's homage to the creative ferment he experienced there and to its host, Florence Griswold. The focus of this moonlit nocturne is the late-Georgian-style home of Miss Florence, as she was known, the last surviving member of a prominent local shipbuilding family. Forced to take in boarders to survive financially, Miss Florence welcomed several landscape painters to her home, including Childe Hassam.

Metcalf studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and later in Paris at the Académie Julian, where he frequented French artist colonies, including Giverny where he visited Claude Monet. There, Metcalf's exposure to French Impressionism and the development of his interests in botany and ornithology predisposed him to accept invitations from Miss Florence and his old friend Hassam to visit Old Lyme. Apparently thrilled with the natural beauty, artistic camaraderie, and opportunities to paint outdoors, Metcalf enjoyed a productive first summer in Old Lyme in 1905. He likely conceived May Night before returning the following May, and the ambitious canvas apparently occupied him through the following autumn. His work was aided by inclement weather early that summer; as Hassam wrote to his fellow painter J. Alden Weir, "Metty [Metcalf] is working hard at a moonlight. We are all doing moonlights. The weather has been so bad that we have been forced to it."

May Night shows an ethereally dressed figure that surely represents Miss Florence, for whom Metcalf painted the canvas, crossing the shadow-strewn lawn toward a seated companion. Set beneath a canopy of stars, lush trees frame the scene; the triangular shapes of the dogwood tree, and the white horse-chestnut blossoms echo those of the women's pale gowns. Metcalf enhanced his painted tribute to his host in several ways. He improved on the somewhat dilapidated appearance of the mansion and grounds and rendered the house as otherworldly and nearly templelike, perhaps in reference to its nickname, Holy House. An off-center perspective and the exaggerated height of the Ionic columns emphasize the home's portico (the porch at the entrance), the most classical feature of the house. The only reminder of modern life Metcalf chose to include is the glowing yellow light seen in the doorway and the windows on the left, suggesting lamplight.

Miss Florence was thrilled with Metcalf's painting, saying it "was the best thing he had ever done." When the artist offered her May Night in exchange for room and board, however, she refused to accept it, instead encouraging him to exhibit the work in New York, where it went on to receive critical acclaim. Metcalf's work also inspired other American artists to paint moonlight views, which became something of a trademark in Old Lyme.


lower left: W. L. METCALF '06


The artist [1858-1925]; purchased February 1907 by the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington; acquired 2014 by the National Gallery of Art.

Exhibition History

Exhibition of Landscape by Willard L. Metcalf, St. Botolph Club, Boston, 9 - 29 November 1906, no. 14.
Annual Exhibition of the Ten, Montross Galleries, New York, May - April 1907.
First Annual Exhibition of Oil Paintings by Contemporary American Artists, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 7 February - 9 March 1907, no. 166.
103rd Annual Exhibition, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, 20 January - 29 February 1908, no. 374.
Third Annual Exhibition of Selected Paintings by American Artists, Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, 30 April - 30 August 1908, no. 90.
Third Annual Exhibition of Selected Paintings by American Artists, Saint Louis Museum of Fine Arts, 15 September - 1 November 1908, no. 91.
Memorial Exhibition, Milch Galleries, New York, December 1925.
Paintings by Willard L. Metcalf, Corcoran Gallery of Art, 3 January - 1 February 1925, no. 14.
Survey of American Painting, Carnegie institute, Pittsburgh, 24 October - 15 December 1940, no. 243.
Fifty Years at the Corcoran, Frye Museum, Seattle; University Museum, Arizona State College, Tempe; Quincy Art Club, (Illinois); J.B. Speed Art Museum, Louisville; Service League of Port Arthur, Texas; Winston-Salem Public Library (North Carolina); Museum of Fine Arts, Little Rock, Arkansas; Meadows Museum, Southern Methodist Univserity, Dallas; Miama Beach Art Center; Kent State University Museum, Ohio; Davenport Municipal Art Gallery, 1957-1958, no cat.
Twenty-fifth Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary American Oil Paintings (Historical Section) Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington; Toledo Museum of Art, 1957, no. 1.
American Impressionists: Two Generations, Fort Lauderdale Art Center; Memphis Brooks Memorial Art Gallery; Cummer Gallery of Art, Jacksonville, Florida; Delaware Art Center, Wilmington; Michigan State University, East Lansing; Evansville Public Museum (Ohio); Roanoke Fine Arts Center (Virginia); Vancouver Art Gallery; Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Fredericton, Canada; Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario; Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada; Saint John's, Newfoundland, Canada; London Public Library and Art Museum {Ontario); Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, British Columbia, 1963-1965, no. 20.
Past and Present: 250 Years of American Art, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 1966, unpublished checklist.
The Art Colony at Old Lyme: 1900-1935, Lyman Allyn Museum, New London, Connecticut, 1966, no. 73.
Willard L. Metcalf Retrospective, Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute, Utica; Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, Massachusetts; Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, New Hampshire; Hunter Museum of Art, Chattanooga, 1976-1977, no. 20.
The American Renaissance, 1876-1917, Brooklyn Museum; National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian Institution, Washington; M.H. De Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco; Denver Art Museum, 1979-1980, no. 216 (shown only in Brooklyn and Washington).
Echoes and Late Shadows: The Larger World of Southern Impressionism, Morris Museum of Art, Augusta, 1996, unnumbered checklist.
The Forty-Fifth Biennial: The Corcoran Collects, 1907–1998, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 17 July - 29 September 1998, unnumbered catalogue.
American Impressionism: Selections from the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Strathmore Hall Arts Center, North Bethesda, Maryland, 1999, unnumbered catalogue.
Colonies of American Impressionism: Cos Cob, Old Lyme, Shinncock and Laguna Beach, Laguna Art Museum, 1999, no. 40.
The Impressionist Tradition in America, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 2003, unpublished checklist.
Encouraging American Genius: Master Paintings from the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, NY; Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte; John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, 2005-2007, checklist no. 63.
May Night: Willard Metcalf at Old Lyme, Florence Griswold Museum, Old Lyme, Connecticut, 2005, no. 6.
The American Evolution: A History through Art, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 2008, unpublished checklist.
American Paintings from the Collection, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 6 June-18 October 2009, unpublished checklist.
American Journeys: Visions of Place, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 21 September 2013-28 September 2014, unpublished checklist.


Broude, Norma, ed. World Impressionism: The International Movement. New York, 1990; 62.
Hiesinger, Ulrich. Impressionism in America: The Ten American Painters. New York: Prestel, 1991, p. 169.
Montgomery, Elizabeth. American Impressionism. Greenwich, CT, 1991: 66.
Adelson, Warren, Jay E. Cantor, and William H. Gerdts. Childe Hassam Impressionist. New York and Lond, 1999; 50.
Cash, Sarah. "Willard Leroy Metcalf, May Night." In Corcoran Gallery of Art: American Paintings to 1945. Edited by Sarah Cash. Washington, 2011: 34, 192-193, 275-276, repro.

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