Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Donor at the Morgan

Last week I touched on the subject of how works of art come into museums.  There is actually an exhibition at the Morgan Library & Museum that is devoted to the subject.  It is called “Old Masters: Newly Acquired”.  It is devoted to works on paper created before 1900 and acquired within the last 3 years.  It focuses mainly on 4 collectors, 3 of whom I know or knew personally, and one whose name I had only heard of.  After each donor I have put an image which has special significance to me among those exhibited.

We met Brooke Astor (Mrs. Vincent Astor) as the grand dame who was sent to our gallery to unveil a special work of art as part of a benefit for the Frick Collection.  A number of galleries in New York were being asked to present a work of art that evening. After the unveiling our son, Hunter, who must have been 9 or 10 at the time, took Mrs. Astor by the hand and asked if she would like to take a tour of the rest of the gallery and off they went.  When his grade school class later visited the Astor Court at the Metropolitan Museum they were asked if anyone knew who Mrs. Astor was.  Hunter piped up, “Yes, she is a personal friend of mine”.  Of course, a mother accompanying the group called my wife that evening to report that her son was telling tales.  Penelope had one of those wonderful moments when she could respond, “Well, it happens to be true”.  When we told her the the story Mrs. Astor inscribed a copy of her autobiography “To my personal friend, Hunter”.

Mrs. Astor was a great patron of the arts in New York and her stated goal was to spend all the Astor Foundation’s money before she died.  A number of drawings from her personal collection were left to the Morgan Library as part of her bequest.  This is one I especially love.

Courtesy of the Morgan Library & Museum

Gian Domenico Tiepolo is the fun artist his father Gian Baptiste is much more serious! So for a work on paper I prefer the former.

The Frick Collection in New York, was run at that time by Charles Ryskamp (1928-2010) who worked tirelessly for the museums he was involved with.  He had been a director of the Morgan Library and ended his career as director of the Frick Collection at which time he organized the benefit that Mrs. Astor participated in.  He instituted a practice at the Frick that we greatly resented asking anyone who used the Frick Library to state the purpose of their research.  Obviously, dealers did not always wish to reveal that information and my wife, who at the time was working independently on various projects as an independent curator doing catalogs for both art dealers and museums, resented it so much that she used the New York Public Library instead of the Frick until this director retired.  But most of the world adored him and he was a great patron to many dealers in this country and abroad.  Over his lifetime he acquired a serious collection of works on paper that he left to the Morgan.  I think I picked this image because we also have a Kobel at the gallery of a riverbank.

Courtesy of the Morgan Library & Museum

Courtesy of Stiebel, Ltd.

The person I know best who is a major contributor to the museum and this exhibition is Eugene Victor Thaw, known to one and all as Gene.  He was a major dealer in New York selling to all the museums. One of his many famous private clients was Norton Simon to whom he was a confident and advisor on the collection that would become the Norton Simon Museum in Los Angeles.  When Gene “retired” he and his wife Clare doubled down on their collecting and donated various collections to museums around New York State.  In 1995 a new wing was built onto the James Fennimore Cooper Museum in order to house the Eugene and Clare Thaw Collection of American Indian Art in Cooperstown, New York, adding another major draw to the town where it shines along side the Glimmerglass Opera and the Baseball Hall of Fame.  All are reasons to make the trek up there.  This collection is one of the best in the country.  In fact, Gene has always only been interested in collecting the best of the best.  Nothing seems to give him more pleasure than if he can show you an object from his collection and reach for a museum catalog in order to show you a similar object and explain why his is superior.   Gene and Clare have a special devotion to the Morgan with which he has been involved since the 1960’s.   I once asked the director, who gave more works on paper to the Morgan, its founder or Gene.  He honestly could not answer the question.  Considering that Gene and Clare have given other collections to the Metropolitan and Cooper Hewitt museums their contribution to the arts in New York is immeasurable. Their foundation has also done wonders for the arts across the country especially in Santa Fe.  I love the dream imagery of Fuseli and this superb example the Thaws gave to the Morgan.

Courtesy of the Morgan Library & Museum

Gene also wears a hat as advisor to Claus von Bülow who with his daughter, Cosima von Bülow Pavoncelli, administrates the Sunny Crawford von Bulow Fund for drawings at the Morgan.  Sunny and Claus were clients of ours but one day Sunny went into insulin shock and was in a coma for many years before she died.  The Fund was given by her family in Sunny’s memory.   This drawing by Parrocel was a purchased by the Fund from Stiebel, ltd.

Courtesy of the Morgan Library & Museum

Of course, the Morgan has made purchases on its own but I have concentrated here on those who gave from their collections and the person I did not know was Joseph F. McCrindle.  He was born to wealth and social status and devoted his life to the arts, starting a literary review and a foundation.  After his death in 2008 it was announced that the collection would be distributed to some 30 institutions.  I am showing here a drawing that went to the Morgan by one of my favorite minor artists, Jean-Louis Forain.  My parents had owned one that I grew up with and I was given one by my uncle which I unfortunately lost in a divorce many years ago.

Courtesy of the Morgan Library & Museum

Museum collections grow through the efforts of their directors, curators and the patrons that they are able to cultivate.  Often overlooked is role of curators as advisors to collectors, guiding their acquisitions with the institution’s permanent collection in mind.

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