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.

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