UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 09:  Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut (Photo by Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge/Getty Images)

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Wadsworth Atheneum

Top choice in Connecticut

In 2015 the nation's oldest public art museum completed a five-year, $33-million renovation, renewing 32 galleries and 15 public spaces. The Wadsworth houses nearly 50,000 pieces of art in a castlelike Gothic Revival building. On display are paintings by members of the Hudson River School, including some by Hartford native Frederic Church; 19th-century impressionist works; 18th-century New England furniture; sculptures by Connecticut artist Alexander Calder; and an outstanding array of surrealist, postwar and contemporary works.

The renovation project also brought the beaux-arts Morgan Memorial Building back to its historic splendor, showcasing over 1000 works of European painting, sculpture and decorative arts.

Barely known outside art circles, the Wadsworth was founded by generous Hartford art lover Daniel Wadsworth, scion of one of the oldest settler families in Connecticut. His father made the family fortune in trade, manufacturing, banking and insurance, and Daniel bolstered the family’s reputation with his marriage to Faith Trumbull, niece of celebrated artist John Trumbull. The museum was built on the site of the family home and Daniel donated its first Hudson River School paintings. Where Daniel left off, Elizabeth Hart Jarvis Colt, widow of Samuel Colt, picked up. In 1905 she bequeathed the museum more than 1000 items, purchased from the sale of Colt’s weapons to the military.

As if the mind-blowing array of the permanent exhibits isn’t enough, the Amistad Foundation Gallery has an outstanding collection of African American art and historical objects, and the Matrix Gallery features works by contemporary artists.

On the first Thursday of the month the museum stays open until 8pm. Most evenings there are also lectures, which are open to the public and free. If you can limit your visit to an hour, the museum is also free after 4pm Wednesday to Sunday.

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