Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Kimbell Art Museum

As promised last week I am returning to the Kimbell Art Museum which has so many good memories for me from the time that Edmund P. "Ted" Pillsbury was director from 1980 to 1998.  As Rick Brettel, former director at the Dallas Museum, professor at the University of Texas Dallas and art critic at the Dallas Morning News said, Ted "was, in some ways, single-handedly responsible for turning the Kimbell from an institution with a great building into one whose collection matches its architecture in quality”.  The architecture he was referring to was, of course, the ideal museum building designed in 1972 by the American Architect Louis I. Kahn (1901-1974).

I remember in the 1990’s being invited with my wife to his wonderful Seminars which he put together with his then curator Colin Bailey, who is currently director of the Morgan Library and Museum.  They were done around special exhibitions to which he invited visiting scholars from all over the world.  These included museum directors, curators, ivory tower scholars and dealers.  It was always a wonderful mix.  During the day there would be the scholarly talks and a tour of the exhibition.  Then one evening he would invite everyone to his beautiful home with a garden that looked like it was out of a Hubert Robert painting and to see his wonderful personal collection.  Another, we might go down to the stockyard area and to Joe T. Garcia’s restaurant with its Tex-Mex cuisine and Western décor, which the European visitors in particular loved.

Then there was the art.  My father always said he loved his home-town museum, The Staedel, in Frankfurt am Main, Germany because it was a small museum with not that many paintings but it had a single masterpiece from so many artists.  I believe the same can be said about the Kimbell which has great paintings from the early renaissance to the 20th century.

Happily in this museum photography is allowed and I snapped away at some of my favorites but I can only present a few here.  The first one to look at was their painting by Duccio Buoninsegna (1278-1318) of the “Raising of Lazarus”.  The Metropolitan Museum finally acquired a Duccio a few years ago, which, in my opinion, does not hold a candle to this one.  I believe that the Kimbell Duccio competes well with the wonderful Duccio in the Frick Collection, “The Temptation of Christ”.

I don’t know if any of you have ever seen a posthumous work by an artist but it happened at the Kimbell.  This painting, “A Portrait of Jacob Obrecht” (1457/58-1505) was bought attributed to Hans Memling (1430-1490).  Unfortunately, for the attribution that is, the engaged frame has the date of 1496 with the sitters’s age as 38.  Now the picture is called anonymous and either Netherlandish or French.  Let the art historians enjoy themselves but this renaissance portrait is still a masterpiece of it genre.

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo’s (1617-1682) simply titled, “Four Figures on a Step” from the artist’s mid-career, there is so much to see.  The income level of this family is immediately evident by the hole in the britches of the child lying in the woman’s lap.  She, however, has been able to acquire a pair of spectacles, which could not have been so easy to come by at the time.  As I have so often said pictures are open to interpretation and keep the art historians in business. The old lady has been described as a procurer offering the little boy or as a virtuous woman delousing the head of a child.  Another tidbit that is fun is that the buttocks of the boy has been covered with over paint twice before in it history and has now been restored to its original state.

I can’t leave the Kimbell without mentioning a set of 4 oversize paintings by François Boucher (1703-1770).  They were created right at the end of his life in 1769 for the Paris hôtel of  Jean-François Bergeret de Frouville [d.1783].  They were acquired from the French Rothschild’s and bought by dealers including our firm.  We offered them to the director of the Frick where they have a rotunda into which they would have fit perfectly.  The director was told to be discreet about their acquisition because the Rothschilds, in those days, did not want anyone to know what they bought or what they sold.  So much for discretion, the Frick director decided not to keep the paintings and spoke with the director of the Kimbell Museum that acquired the set.  Here is an image of one of the paintings representing the “Forge of Vulcan”.

The Kimbell collection goes well into the 20th century but I will conclude with a work of 1889 by James Ensor (Belgium, 1860-1949).  The painting, “Skeletons Warming Themselves”.   The artist, to quote the Museum’s website  “has placed three dressed-up skeletons in the foreground around a stove on which is written “Pas de feu” and under it “en trouverez vous demain?”—“No fire. Will you find any tomorrow?”  “The skeletons are accompanied by a palette and brush, a violin, and a lamp. Presumably Ensor intended these items to symbolize art, music, and literature. If so, the probable implication is that artistic inspiration, or patronage to support it, has expired.”  What a wonderfully macabre subject of social criticism.  Again another painting that is tops in its class.

The Kimbell is truly a museum of Masterpieces.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

A Few Days on the Road

I was convinced to join a group from the Spanish Colonial Society and Museum in Santa Fe to come on their junket to Dallas, Texas.  Actually, it did not need too much convincing since I had wanted to see the Caillebotte exhibition at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Dallas's more hospitable neighbor but more about that another day. 

These trips are often over scheduled and this one was no exception.  Within a few minutes of arriving at the hotel we were asked to be in one of the hotel's meeting rooms for a lecture.  Happily, this was a rather interesting one, on "Colonial Art in Texas" by Dr. Kelly Donahue Wallace, Professor at the University of North Texas.  Another of her titles was Director of on-line programming, a relatively new term in academe. In the images she showed I found interesting all the influences from continental Europe including France and mostly The Netherlands. 

After a brief break we went to see a lovely couple in their vitrine-like home.  You could see most of the rooms through the large glass windows.  They were extremely eclectic collectors and clearly bought what they liked wherever they went.  The French 18th century style furniture they chose to live with was of particular interest to me. The one essential for these trips is the van or bus and we were, mercifully, a small enough group for a van.

The next morning we were at the Meadows Museum of Art when the doors opened.  The Meadows is on the campus of Southern Methodist University (SMU).  Our son was there studying at the Meadows School for the Arts majoring in Theatre 15 years ago. In those days the museum was actually housed in the school but we hardly saw anyone ever there and certainly not the students unless they were in a class!  Today it is quite a vibrant institution with its own building.  We had a docent take us around their special exhibition, "Treasures of the House of Alba".  I don't know about you but when I see an art exhibition I like to learn something of the art and not just the history of the family.  I want to be wowed by their collection and see how it fit into the family story not just about the people themselves.  What I found of most interest in the show was the family’s fifteenth century bible, an  illustrated manuscript of 513 folios.  A Rabbi was commissioned for the first translation of the Old Testament from the original Hebrew into Spanish.  CLICK HERE to see illustrations from the facsimile edition with the story of the bible.    This image of the Meadows museum has the lyrical undulating sculpture by Santiago Calatrava of 2002.

We spent the afternoon at the Dallas Museum of Art ostensibly to see their collection of Spanish Colonial art which all fit into one small gallery.  Our docent was a very nice fellow but luckily the curator from the Spanish Colonial Art Museum, Robin Gavin, was with us to help him out...  The museum is a cold cavernous place, which shows how much space there is in Texas!  Happily we could roam around their collections on our own where we could discover some wonderful paintings.  Then on to the next cocktail party where the lady who greeted us had a proper art collection with works of art everywhere.  She and her husband had clearly collected passionately being into Native American and Pre-Columbian ceramics and American Modernist paintings and works on paper.  Next stop a good restaurant.  I should mention that our hostesses both evenings fed us well with drinks and a multitude of fancy hors d'oeuvres.

The next morning it was back into our van to drive the 45-minute trip to Fort Worth where we went to visit the incomparable Kimbell Art Museum founded in 1966 and opened in their wonderful Louis Kahn building in 1972.   Curator, Nancy Edwards gave us a tour of the highlights of the collection.  It was so good to see old friends again, both in person and on the wall.  I think that I will visit some of those in more detail in the next weeks. They have a hearty cafeteria menu especially as compared to the box of lettuce that we were handed at the Dallas museum.  There was no choice there.  At the Kimbell you just tell them what size plate you want, small medium or large and fill it up!  Then to the new wing of the Kimbell by starchitect Renzo Piano where the wonderful Caillebotte exhibition was being held.  Since the show had just opened it was too crowded to have a docent; we settled for the audio guide.  Also more on this at a later date.   Here our eager group waits for the Kimbell Museum’s doors to open.

The final art stop on our brief trip was another high point, the Amon Carter Museum. It was the dream of Amon G. Carter, Sr. who died in 1955.  The museum, also in a building by a famous architect, Philip Johnson, opened in 1961.  It was then what Ruth Carter Stevenson, daughter of the founder, once told us that, at the beginning, it was called the “Yippee Yi Yay” museum.  In other words it was not taken seriously.  “Mistake, big mistake”.  The original collection of Western Art has been extended to cover all American art.  There is a great interest in photography with a fabulous collection best known for its holdings of Elliot Porter.  Here we had a docent of a certain age who was so full of vim and vigor, I kept thinking what she must have been like as a young woman. In any case, she was the perfect anecdote for a group that was probably pretty close to museumed out!

Back in Dallas we had our good-bye party at a restaurant called Mesa.  It had been recommended by our son and the daughter of one of the others in our group.  What a great recommendation it was!  Some of the best Mexican food I have ever had, not to mention the Margaritas!  Caught in this photo the Museum Director, David Setford (right) and Joel Goldfrank whose daughter suggested Mesa.

I always say I enjoy travel in retrospect since it is always exhausting and this trip was as well. We certainly got a lot in and lots of good memories with what turned out to be a most enjoyable group of fellow travelers.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Andrea del Sarto

Drawings are an acquired taste.  They rarely hit you over the head and say, “you cannot ignore me”.

Like all areas of art there are nuances: some people relate to rough sketches where there is more outline than substance; others just to finished drawings where you can put just one up on the wall and the viewer will see exactly what the artist was getting at.

If you ride on the New York subway system you will sometimes see someone with their sketch pad out drawing the riders opposite them.  Because of the intimacy of the subway these draughtsman seem more furtive than a painter working with easel in the middle of a park or on a mountainside.  If you think about it drawing is more intimate and personal.  If the draughtsman is good he or she can reach right down to the soul of a sitter much quicker than an oil painting can.

If you want to study one of the great draughtsmen of the Renaissance rush over to The Frick Collection in New York before January 10.  There you will find an exhibition, “Andrea del Sarto: The Renaissance Workshop in Action” co-organized by The Frick and the J. Paul Getty Museum.  About 50 drawings (close to 1/3 of his known corpus) and 3 paintings borrowed from many collections among them the Getty, the British Museum, the Louvre and the Uffizi as well as the National Gallery are displayed.

Del Sarto, (1486-1530), was born and died in Florence, though he was baptized Andrea d’Agno, he was known as del Sarto after the profession of his father, a tailor.  His fame, however was soon to be eclipsed by his better known contemporaries, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci.

In the exhibition you can follow step by step the stages of drawing by a master to its ultimate conclusion in a finished painting.  My wife and I do not agree on how to view the exhibition.  It is being shown in the Frick’s lower level exhibition galleries and the grand oval room in the center of the museum.  If you go around as the Frick suggests you will go downstairs first and view the sketches, then work your way upstairs to the finished drawings and paintings that relate to them.  I believe, that at least if you are a novice, it is best to first see the finished products, the paintings,  and then see how they were put together from the drawings.

Without knowing the model it is difficult to see how well the artist has done, but working backwards from the painting to the study one can relate the two images.  One of the best examples is the “Study of the head of an Old Woman” circa 1529 from the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford   The drawing surely done from life has so much more gravitas, life experience if you will, than St. Elizabeth has in the finished painting’s figure in “The Medici Holy Family” of the same year from the Palazzo Pitti, Galleria Plantina, Florence.


Another example is the painting of St. John the Baptist from the Palazzo Pitti and the head of the boy from the National Gallery, Woodner Collection in Washington D.C.  While the painting is unquestionably striking the drawing is so much more delicate and beautiful.


As Holland Carter referred to it in the New York Times, “the real workshop business” can be found downstairs.  This is where you find the unfinished drawings on their own.  They seem disconnected until one per chance finds the painting or paintings that they relate to… del Sarto was not above using the same sketch for more than one painting.   More difficult is to match up individual body parts with specific paintings such as the “Studies of Arms, Legs, Hands and Drapery” from the Galleria degl Uffizi in Florence.

Del Sarto is particularly well known for his work in red chalk and the lyrical robe from the J. Paul Getty Museum is a fine example.

Like most other people I am a sucker for children (even though I sometime overdose on Face Book ) and I just cannot resist showing the Metropolitan Museum’s red chalk drawing, “Studies of a Head and Hand” of 1510.

A much smaller exhibition “Andrea del Sarto’s Borgherini Family” is showing at the Metropolitan Museum.  Cooperation between museums in the same town seems to becoming more frequent which is a good thing for a change.

If you will not be able to get to New York before the show closes, second best, take a look at the Frick Collection website,  where you can see the works of art and even how they were grouped.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The New Cooper Hewitt

In 1895, three granddaughters of Peter Cooper (1791-1883), designer and builder of the first steam locomotive in America, and founder of the Cooper Union school for science and arts, asked the school for space to create a museum for decoration inspired by the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.  The museum was founded in 1896 and was originally known as the Cooper Union Museum for the Arts of Decoration.

The interests of the museum and the school diverged, and as the school’s finances were stressed, in 1963 the Cooper Union announced the closing of the museum.  Heeding the subsequent outcry the Smithsonian agreed to take over the collections and library in 1967.  In 1972 the Carnegie Corporation donated its mansion on the Upper East Side of New York to house the museum.  It was the first Smithsonian Museum outside of Washington D.C.

We were at the opening in 1976 and remember the former curator of the collections, J. Stewart Johnson, who had just become Curator of Design at The Museum of Modern Art, being there and commenting that this was the first time he had actually viewed the the objects since they had all been packed up during his tenure!

The museum has recently gone through a major renovation taking over a building next door in order to move their offices relieving exhibition space, adding a bigger shop and putting in a freight elevator. We had made a donation of our German Jugendstil pewter collection and some other decorative arts objects a couple of years ago but not had a chance to see them in their new home.  When we went back to New York this time we made an appointment with old friends, Cara McCarty, Curatorial Director, and Sarah Coffin, Curator of 17th and 18th Century Decorative Arts, as well as Head Product Design and Decorative Arts Department.

We were treated to a nice healthy lunch in their new cafeteria, which has also been added during the renovation.  A much needed addition since there are not many simple lunch places in close proximity. It looks out over the garden, which will be open to visitors, but is still under construction.  From there we were taken into the mansion itself, which thankfully had not changed in its beautiful early 20th century style with its dark wood paneled rooms.  In any case the Carnegie Mansion was designated a land marked building in 1974 so its essence had to be preserved.  Ninety-one million dollars was raised for the project and about eighty million was used for the renovation leaving the remainder as an endowment.

We were handed admission badges and what looked like a thick pen.  Mystified we were taken to large glass tables on which we could call up most of the objects in the collection.  We were shown how to drag objects we selected into a personal collection.  What then you may ask?  When you get home you can enter the code printed on your admission ticket and bring all those works of art that you “collected” into your personal collection on your computer.   What is truly incredible is that almost all the 210,000 objects in the collection were digitized and bar coded within 18 months, which must be some kind of record for organization and efficiency!

Another statistic that amazed me was that 92% of the visitors take the pens (which you are meant to return when you leave) and only two have walked away so far.  Even more surprising is the statistic that 34% of those who used the pen have retrieved the material again at home … Yes, big brother is watching!

As you can imagine 210,000 works of art cannot be shown all at once and, as a matter, of fact, only about 600 are on display at any one time.  As a result only two pieces from our donation were on view and, as we had been told, are shown in what was originally one of the mansions guest bathrooms! They are a pair of Kayzersinn Candlesticks, German 1900-1902, and the beautiful French 18th century gilt bronze musical clock stand, which I gave in memory of my father.  I dragged those with my pen into “my collection” and when I got home I was able to retrieve an image and all the documentation.  -

I must admit that when you go through your “collection” at home you may look at a couple of your images and scratch your head and think, why in the world did I want to save that one?   By going on the museum’s website you can search through the collections but it is helpful to have data such as the designer or accession numbers, otherwise you need to figure out rather detailed and therefore complicated search categories.

It’s always nice to come across something familiar even if it did not come out of your own collection.
As we continued on our expert guided tour of the rest of the museum we saw that an entire room had been dedicated to the collection of model staircases donated to the museum by Eugene V. and Clare E. Thaw many of which we had seen when the Thaws lived in Santa Fe.

For me it was definitely a new and different experience in museum going, viewing familiar objects and interacting with them in a whole new way.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Dealers’ Pop-Up Exhibition

I ended my last Missive recommending that everyone see the pop-up exhibition in New York, at the Academy Mansion at 2 East 63rd Street, which ended this past weekend.  In spite of it having closed, I feel it is worth talking about some more because I would love to see more exhibitions of this caliber. 

The three art dealers who put together the exhibition were Brimo from Paris, Di Castro from Rome and Kugel from Paris.  A greater treasure trove of old European art you could not see anywhere in the world. What is being exhibited is material from ancient Rome to the 19th century.  As much as the term has been abused one can honestly say all was of “Museum Quality”.  Brimo de Larousilhe deals in objects of the medieval and renaissance period,  Galleria Alessandra Di Castro has mainly Italian renaissance art in all media and Galerie J. Kugel has continental European works of art from the 16th to 19th century often of an unusual nature.

But first of all, what is a pop-up exhibition?  I found the following definition/explanation on line:   “A pop-up exhibition is a temporary art event, less formal than a gallery or museum but more formal than private artistic showing of work. The idea began in 2007 in New York City where space for exhibiting artistic work is very limited.”

While I can agree with some of this, the exhibition at 2 East 63rd Street was anything but informal.  While it has not been unusual that during active art seasons dealers did exhibitions in a foreign venue it is unheard of to be done with this size and quality.  The “Wow Factor” begins with the venue.  The location just off 5th avenue is incredible, the sort of private mansion one reads about owned by billionaires and Arab sheiks.

Recently I read a book by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark, Newell, Jr. called “Empty Mansions” about Huguette Clark who owned grand houses and apartments around the country but did not live in them.  From her own inherited fortune she could keep them up and always have them ready for her imminent arrival, though she never arrived.  Then there are those who buy houses as an investment and so it is with Leonard Blavatnik, who has invested heavily in New York real estate.  In 2001 a company belonging to him purchased the mansion that is the site of the Pop-up exhibition .  It was built by William Ziegler, Jr., heir to the Royal Baking Powder Company fortune.  Ziegler had commissioned the architect Frederick Sterner to design the building in 1919 for himself and his wife, Gladys.  It was on the site of 3 old brownstones.  Today, we are still lamenting the loss of such old buildings … nothing changes!  After divorcing his wife, however, Ziegler sold the building in 1929 to Norman Bailey Woolworth of the family that owned the eponymous stores.  Twenty years later Woolworth donated it to the New York Academy of Sciences, and it has since been known as the Academy Mansion.  In turn they sold it to Blavatnik.  He never planned to move in but has rented it out for parties, weddings and pop-up exhibitions!

Photo Credit: Christopher Gray

I asked Laura Kugel how come they took this space and she responded, “After looking at many places, including galleries, we chose it because it's really a house and gives us a unique opportunity to invite people in our temporary home. It wasn't fitted with professional lighting for works of art so we had to install all of it in the week prior to the opening.”   In the end they had to add some walls as well.   Here is an image of the temporary office that the dealers designed in which to greet clients.

Photo Credit: Elizabeth Lippman

Walking into the exhibition one was immediately transported to the Old World.   Of course, at the beginning of the last century wealthy Americans were imitating the luxury of the European living style.  Therefore, the building is perfect for making one feel that one was in one of the grand houses of the three dealers involved in the show.

Photo Credit: Elizabeth Lippman

Beyond the ground floor rooms of the pop-up installation and up a spiral staircase was another floor full of great treasures.  The gallery that looked most like an Old World Kunst Kammer was the one in which members of each gallery posed for a photo.  They are Alessandra Di Castro, Nicolas Kugel, Alexis Kugel, and Marie-Amélie Carlier.   They are standing at a marble Italian renaissance table and behind them you can see wonderful early vermeil pieces.  No objects were identified with a gallery in the installation so no judgments could be made for reasons of dealer prejudice.

Photo Credit: Elizabeth Lippman

One of the objects that all the dealers were particularly proud to show and is worth singling out is a large Roman 16th century bust of Emperor Caracalla (186-217 AD).

As if this all were not enough, by invitation, one could go to another floor in the Mansion’s small elevator where on display was a tapestry cycle: The Meersburg Hunts of Maximilian tapestries, a set of seven tapestries after cartoons designed by Bernard Van Orley from Brussels, circa 1550-70.

If you missed the show in New York, you will need to travel to Paris and Rome to visit these premier galleries… or maybe they will be coming back to New York next year.