The Water Organ

One of the pictures featured in the new painting gallery is a lovely (and recently conserved!) work by George Wharton Edwards.

George Wharton Edwards (American 1859-1950)
The Water Organ at Ville D’Este
1925
Oil on canvas

George Wharton Edwards was an American Impressionist painter who corresponded regularly with Mrs. Sloane from 1935 until his death in 1950. His work was enormously popular amongst the cultural elite of the 1920s and 30s, and he received numerous honors and awards throughout his lifetime, including an appointment in 1925 to the Légion d’Honneur of France for “Eminent Services in Art.” His work can be found in many major holdings, including the Fine Arts Museum of San Fransisco, Musée D’Orsay, and the High Museum in Atlanta, Georgia. He was an active member of the famous Cos Cob Art Colony; a group of artists working in Greenwich, Connecticut between 1890 and 1920.

We have five works by Edwards in the Sloane Collection.  Mrs. Sloane’s letters to Edwards indicate they were planning a one-man show of his work at the Norfolk Museum of Arts and Sciences (now the Chrysler Museum) in the early 1930s. Edwards shipped 30 works on canvas to the Hermitage, and though no inventory of those works remain in the archives I am fairly certain that the remaining five came from that shipment. Three of his most beautiful Italian scenes are hanging in the painting gallery, including The Water Organ at Ville D’Este, pictured above.

The Villa d’Este, now a UNESCO world heritage site, was commissioned by Cardinal Ippolito Il d’Este in the mid 16th century. The landscape surrounding the Villa is replete with decorative fountains and formal gardens, including sculptural work loosely attributed to Bernini, but the water organ is easily the strangest garden feature. Read about the history of water organs here if you are so inclined.

No matter how much I read I still couldn’t grasp the mechanics of the organ. I mean, hydraulics? What? More than anything I wanted to HEAR the organ. Well, in case you forgot, the internet is a magical place. A simple youtube search turned up a handful of videos of the organ in action.

Get your organ on:

… and come see the painting under new light in November!

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