“Life for Laurence was a full one. He mastered the skill of painting, whether it was a landscape or a portrait, a page out of nature, a mural or one of the myriads of flowers he would grow to study and paint. With oil and water color under mastery, he turned to lithography and found it no great challenge.
Perhaps the secret behind Laurence Nelson was his mother, Alice Hirschberg. C. Y. Turner and William Merritt Chase claimed that she was America’s greatest woman artist and a woman truly liberated – a master of painting in oil and water color, etching and wood engraving, designer of fashion, magazine illustrator, collaborator with Turner and Chase in some of their greatest works.
George Laurence Nelson came by his talent from a rich heritage, but he was who he was because his mother taught him how to live, how to dream, how to draw and encouraged his love for art and music (he played five instruments and had a rich voice).”
“Second to her were his mentors James Whistler and John Sargent. They taught him through their writings and paintings how to work with tools, how to reverence the brush and its stroke, how to see life as it is meant to be lived, how to share a vision however delicate with others. That he learned well from them is evident in the very early painting he did of his mother, a work often attributed to Sargent.
Long is the list of those who boast of his friendship, ownership of one of his paintings, of those who acclaim him as a good neighbor always interested in the welfare of his house, his district, his community.”
“The likes of George Laurence Nelson is not likely again, at least not in numbers. His dry humor, quick step, long stride, shy smile, twinkling eye, warm handshake, effervescent conversation, enthusiasm for the new, deep humility when faced with praise, amazement when sought after for interview or one of his works – all these and more spell out this resident of Seven Hearths, who so loved this spot of history that he left it so others might share in its beauty and significance.
He knew his origins, appreciated his many talents, knew well his life’s mission, and he could and did take pride in what he accomplished, whether it might be a gold medal, a comment from his peer, an international recognition.
His was a gentleness fashioned and tempered by the three loves of his life: his mother, his wife, his ‘mistress’ art. He has taken his place in American history as one of the ten greatest portrait painters and one of the all-time lithographers, but he has taken his place in Kent and its history, not because of his international stature or reputation in American Art; rather because he chose to live here, share himself as a warm genuine human person who knew how to love and be loved, and finally to be buried in the land he loved so well – Kent.”
William Dolan Fletcher
February 11, 1978
The First Congregational Church
After his death, Nelson’s popularity waned considerably. His reputation now falls far short of what it was during his prolific career. The Kent Historical Society has embarked on a mission to restore him to his rightful place in the annals of American art. To that end, we have recently donated carefully selected pieces to The Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, CT, The Mattatuck Museum in Waterbury, CT, The New Britain (CT) Museum of American Art and the Newington-Cropsey Foundation in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY.
In July, 2008, we had a fundraising exhibit of his work at the Morrison Gallery in Kent, where visitors previously unacquainted with his art were stunned by its beauty and genius.
In addition, we are trying to increase our knowledge of the whereabouts of other Nelson pieces, and will welcome communication from owners of any his treasures. As of this writing in 2012, we have made the acquaintance of many knowledgeable members of the art community who are very enthusiastic about Nelson’s work. We are assembling a task force of these advisors to guide us as we move forward with our mission. Stay tuned!