Sunday, December 17, 2017

Pockets of Representation

"The Strange Life of Objects” is the title of a book written by Maurice Rheims (1910-2003), a French novelist and auctioneer who administered the estate of Pablo Picasso. The book traces what happens to a work of art after its creation. The tastes of collectors, changes in fashion, and fluctuations of value have a great bearing on the fate of a work at any given moment.  The subject has been written about often and I was thinking of the collections that are in museums where you would not expect them.

We all know that you can find great collections and a wide variety of art in the large museums in this country such as Metropolitan in New York, The Cleveland Art Museum, The Los Angeles County Museum, but I am interested here in the more obscure treasure collections you can find around the United States.

One of the greatest gifts of art ever given in this country comprised over 3,000 works of European art with the emphasis on Italian Renaissance paintings given by the Kress Brothers through their foundation The largest single portion went to the National Gallery of Art in Washington but the rest was dispersed to locations where the Kress family had 5 and 10cent stores that were the source of their wealth. You can find the list of scores of regional and academic art museums throughout the United States that have received Kress donations HERE.

I remember getting a phone call from a client asking for me to intervene with the estate of another client of ours Eugenia Woodward Hitt.  She was the daughter of an important Birmingham family and she had left her wonderful collection of French 18th century decorative arts to the Birmingham Museum of Art.  The client wanted me to find out if Birmingham would give up the drapes in the apartment because the first mentioned client wanted to buy the apartment and thought the drapes were perfect.  I must tell you I saw the apartment several times and it was not the drapes that stood out in my memory!   The level of the collection was exemplified by a gilt bronze clock, which did not go to Birmingham but rather to the Chateau de Versailles.   Here is a commode (chest of drawers) in Birmingham by Jacques Dubois from the Hitt Collection.

Who would expect to find one of the finest collections of the German porcelain from the Royal Factory of Meissen in Jacksonville, Florida?  But there it is, in The Cummer Museum and Gardens, thanks to a gift from Constance I. and Ralph H. Wark to the museum in 1965.  Another important collection of German Porcelain can be found at the Dixon Gallery and Gardens in Memphis, Tennessee given by Warda Stevens Stout.

In Cincinnati who would expect to find a world-renowned collection of Limoges Renaissance Enamels?  Well, one is housed in The Taft Museum of Art in the Baum-Longworth-Sinton-Taft House, a National Historic Landmark built around 1820.  They don’t tout it on the museum website, but take my word for it and, If you are in the neighborhood go see it.  When I asked they sent me three images: two by very famous artists Pierre Reymond and  LĂ©onard Limosin  but I chose to illustrate the  complete tryptich with Calvary, Saint James, and Saint Catherine of Alexandria, about 1484–97, by an anonymous master artist known as Monvaerni Master.

Remember, “Go West Young Man Go West” most often attributed to newspaper editor Horace Greeley (1811-1872)? Art too has gone West.   I have given examples on the east coast and the center of the States but one venerable West Coast example, the Huntington Library, Art Collection and Gardens in San Marino, near Los Angeles is an absolute gem. It was  founded in 1919 by railroad pioneer Henry E. Huntington  who combined an enthusiasm for paintings with a love of botany and  rare books and manuscripts.  It is worth it just to walk around the grounds but the collection of European and American paintings is superb as well.    To name a work of art you have surely heard of, Thomas Gainsborough’s (1727-1788), “Blue Boy” that caused such public outcry when it left Britain in 1922, can be found there.

By now everyone has heard of the Getty Center built by the architect Richard Meier to house the European art collected by J. Paul Getty.  His classical antiquities, however, remain in the Malibu location that was his original museum. The installation of ancient masterpieces in Getty’s recreation of a Roman villa is well worth the visit.

I remember when I was young the Los Angeles County Museum was considered a joke but today it is a fabulous museum thanks to its curators and a growing number of major donors.
LACMA has become such an active collecting institution on many fronts that you find new acquisitions on every visit to the galleries. European Art curator Patrice Marandel retired this year after 24 years that were marked by his purchases of outstanding paintings funded by the Ahmanson Foundation. One of those acquisitions is a “Musical Party by Valentine de Bologna.

You have heard the expression “coals to Newcastle”. It can be applied  to art as people love the art made in their part of the world.  So if you are looking for Northwest Coast Native American Art go to the art museums of Portland , Oregon or Seattle, Washington or cross the border and head for the University of British Columbia Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver.

Much of this treasure hunting can be done on you computer where you can seek out what is viewable where.  Enjoy!