The longest, continuously open public art museum in America (yes, it beats even the MET in New York City!), the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art was founded by Daniel Wadsworth in 1842 and opened to the public in 1844. The term “atheneum” refers to a “cultural institution that includes a library, works of art and artifact, which is devoted to learning history, literature, art, and science.” Today, the museum has a collection of over 50,000 pieces of art, ranging from paintings and sculptures to furniture, installations, and china.
The museum complex, located in downtown Hartford, the capital of Connecticut, includes five connected buildings, four of which are open to the public: Avery Court (showcasing American and European art), Morgan Memorial (European art and antiques and special installations), Colt Hall and Wadsworth (the Amistad Center for Art & Culture, contemporary art, and special exhibitions).
The museum is currently open Friday through Sunday, due to pandemic restrictions. Find up to date information on hours here.
Admission is free through the end of April 2021; find up to date information on admission fees here. Admission is always free for Hartford residents, veterans, active duty military and their immediate family, and with certain passes and promotions, like the Bank of America Museums on Us program and Library ARTpass (available at 178 town and school libraries)
The main entrance to the museum is located at 600 Main Street; the Avery Memorial entrance (handicap accessible) is located at 29 Atheneum Square North and is used for tours and evening programs.
There is free weekend (and Friday night) parking on the streets surrounding the museum. Week day parking is available at the Convention Center garage ($3 with museum validation). More information on parking here.
The entire museum complex is handicap and stroller accessible (strollers are allowed). A coat room is available and restrooms are located throughout the museum buildings.
The museum typically offers a wide variety of programming from guided tours, behind the scenes presentations, and evening guests lectures in the lower level Avery Hall Aetna Theater. The museum hopes to resume numerous programs geared towards children, including writing courses, student tours, outreach programs, Your Art Renaissance, and partnerships with the nearby Science Center and Old State House, in 2021. Check online for current, virtual programs and updates on a return to in-person programs.
The museum gift shop is located on the lower level of Avery (next to the entrance) and features a curated variety of books, prints, home wares, jewelry, puzzles and toys, and gifts.
The Untitled Bistro serves a wide variety of salads, sandwiches, and pastas. Note: The Bistro is currently closed due to pandemic restrictions. Check here for updates. Other nearby restaurants can be found here.
Five Things Kids Will Enjoy at the Wadsworth:
1. Bring the whole family to Second Saturdays, held in the morning on the second Saturday of each month. The event is currently mainly virtual, but families can pick up an “art pack” of supplies to take home (and keep!). On site, the museum traditionally provides a variety of musical and performing arts programs, as well as family friendly tours, and anticipates returning to in person events later in the year.
2. Take a “highlights” tour offered every weekend, with a new theme each week. We enjoyed our “From Childhood to Adulthood: A Woman’s Journey” tour that showcased paintings, sculptures, and art installations from a variety of artists. Our docent engaged the children with questions, asking for their observations and hypotheses about the meaning of the art work, and shared important historical context.
3. Learn the step by step process to creating a sculpture, and see the finished product, with Chaim Gross’ “I Love My Baby” created in 1948. The Holt 2nd floor exhibit features a video that showcases the process of the art work, a collection of tools used, an explanation of the art of wood carving, and the finished product, all sculpted from a single piece of wood. On display through April 2021.
4. Choose a favorite, unexpected “piece of art” in the Baroque Art exhibit on the 2nd floor of Morgan Memorial. The collection includes thousands of objects ranging from porcelain figurines to china settings and serving dishes from Baroque, Neoclassical, Impressionist, Post-impressionist, and Romanticism movements. Kids will also love the Cabinet of Art & Curiosity, which showcases natural objects like coral, seashells, ivory, and wood; they may even be inspired to create their own “Cabinet of Art and Curiosity.”
5. Check out two massive Sol LeWitt pieces of art covering several walls of the museum buildings. The most popular one is Wall Drawing #1131, Whirls and Twirls, which was painted in 2004 by studio assistants who followed the artist’s instructions and covers all four walls of the Great Stair to Morgan Hall. The design includes brightly colored bands that curve to the architectural of the stairway. Wall Drawing #793 C, is painted throughout the main lobby of the Main Street entrance in Gray Court. Painted in 1996, the painting focuses on the lobby’s church like design and evokes the colored light of stained glass windows in a cathedral. LeWitt, who was born in Hartford, was considered a pioneer of Conceptual Art, which focuses on the idea rather than the finished product of art.
Bonus: Make sure to explore the collection of seven outdoor sculpture installations displayed throughout the grounds of the museum complex. The Sculpture in the City program began in the summer of 2020 as an invitation to the public to explore the art and architecture throughout the city of Hartford, including the Wadsworth.
For more fun in Hartford, check out our adventures at the Connecticut Science Center and the Mark Twain House. And read more about why you should bring the kids to art museums, and some of our adventures at Cape Ann Museum (MA) , Peabody Essex Museum (MA), Museum of Fine Arts (MA), Barnes Foundation (PA), Philadelphia Art Museum (PA)RISD Art Museum (RI).