Edgar Peters Bowron: “The Critical Fortunes of Italian Baroque Painting in America”


– A native of Birmingham,
Alabama, Edgar Peters Bowron, known to almost everyone as Pete, received his B.A. from Colgate University and his M.A. and PhD from
the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. He began his professional career at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and has subsequently worked in a number of American art museums. He was appointed Director
and Professor of Fine Arts at Harvard’s Art Museums in 1985, and served as Senior Curator of Paintings at the National Gallery
of Art in Washington from 1990 until 1996. When he joined the staff of the
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston as the Audrey Jones Beck
Curator of European Art, well, he joined it after that. Responsible for the
installation of European art in the Audrey Jones Beck Building, which opened in March 2000, Pete continues to
supervise that collection of Impressionist paintings, the Kress and Straus collections
of European Old Masters, the Museum’s wide-ranging collection of European art from
the Middle Ages to 1913. A widely respected scholar and connoisseur of European Old Master paintings, Pete has particular
interest in French, Dutch, and Italian painting of the
16th through the 18th centuries, with a special enthusiasm for painting in Rome in the 18th century and Italian view painting of that period. His writings include numerous collection and exhibition catalogs, including Art in Rome in the 18th Century, Bernardo Bellotto and
the Capitals of Europe, my favorite, Best in Show: The Dog in Art from Renaissance to Today, and Pompeo Batoni: Prince of
Painters in 18th Century Rome. He also wrote Antiquity Revived: Neoclassical Art in the 18th Century. During his museum career,
Pete has played a major role in acquiring significant works
by artists such as Bellotto, Canova, Chardin, Courbet, Baron, Gerard, Panini, Rembrandt, Guido
Reni, Jacob van Ruisdael, just all the A-list, as you can tell, Turner, and Jan van Huysum. This afternoon he will share
with us much of his knowledge and set our whole
symposium on a sure footing with his presentation,
The Critical Fortunes of Italian Baroque Painting in America. Please join me in giving a
warm welcome to Pete Bowron. (audience applauds) – Thank you, Inge. You remind that I once
bored a similar audience in this very room on the subject of Guercino’s great Aldrovandi Dog in the Norton Simon Museum, which is indeed the
greatest representation of a dog in the Italian Baroque. (audience laughs) When we consider the interest
in Italian Baroque painting on the part of a handful
of American collectors, museum curators and
directors and scholars, beginning in the 1920s and
over the years gaining more and more adherents, particularly
in the 1950s and 60s. It’s easy to forget that
the Baroque has played at least a supporting role from the first tentative appearances of European art in this country, and that even our Founding
Fathers showed an interest in the art of the period. Before his departure for Europe in 1784, Thomas Jefferson compiled lists of works that he would like to have copied for his gallery at Monticello, based in part on Horace
Walpole’s description of the pictures at Houghton Hall, that included this celebrated Salvator Rosa Prodigal Son, which is of course today
with the Walpole pictures in The Hermitage. In Paris, Jefferson bought
copies after Domenichino, Guido Reni, Ribera,
Solimena, and Carlo Maratta, and from Italy wrote that Carlo Dolci had become
a “violent favorite.” The leading American painters of the late 18th century were
also drawn to the Baroque to further their artistic education. Benjamin West, John Singleton
Copley, and John Trumbull all admired the 17th
century Bolognese school, and West made several really
very fine copies after Guido, including this Herodias with the head of Saint John the Baptist, which was in the Palazzo Corsini in Rome. By the early 19th century,
as Americans traveled to Europe in greater numbers
emulating the British on the Grand Tour, they
increasingly acquired examples, both originals and copies of the Italian paintings they had admired. Richard Mead, a Philadelphia
art collector, for example, amassed an important collection
of Old Master paintings between 1810 and 20 while
serving as a merchant and as U.S. Consul in Cadiz, Spain that included Luca Giordano’s large Calling of Saint Matthew, which was acquired by
Georgetown University in 1860 from his daughter. Eric Zafran, in his essay, A History of Italian
Baroque Painting in America, which was published in the
catalog of an exhibition of Italian paintings
from Bob Jones University at the Philbrook Museum in 1994, has provided an indispensable guide to the subject of this symposium. With meticulous attention to seemingly, really it’s quite astonishing, Eric, with your 362 footnotes, to seemingly every detail that pertains to the Italian Baroque in America, and he’s documented
the continuous interest in paintings of the period by Americans from the founding of
the nation to the 1990s, noting just in passing the
purchases of two visitors to Florence in 1836,
Henry Wilde of Georgia and Colonel James Thompson of New York, who acquired from the
Riccardi family in Florence Salvator Rosa’s Landscape
with the Baptism of Christ, which is at Bob Jones
University, which you see there, and Salvator Rosa’s self-portrait, which was acquired by the
Metropolitan Museum in 1921. But this essay and its
roster of private collectors, dealers, and art institutions
in 19th century America, and the works they acquired by the likes of the Caracci, Domenichino,
Guido, Guercino, Castiglione, Mola, Maratti, even if these paintings
were not always authentic or what they claimed to be,
is really quite eye-opening. In the 1800s, from Boston
and New York to the Midwest to the West Coast, we see collectors buying Italian Baroque paintings. For example, James Scripps, the newspaper publisher and philanthropist about whom we’ll hear
more from Andrea Derstine, acquired this Head of Christ by Guido Reni and gave it to the Detroit
Institute of Arts in 1889. Now, as we explore over
the next day and a half the collecting of Italian
Baroque painting in America, there are at least five
aspects of the subject that the speakers will consider and that we should focus on, first and foremost the personalities, the collectors, the curators,
the museum directors who acquired these paintings; the art market, that is to say
the dealers, auction houses, and commercial galleries
that provided access to them; as Inge mentioned, the
vicissitudes of taste and the influence of writers, teachers, art historians, and art
historical scholarship in shaping perceptions about 17th and early 18th century Italian painting; the role of exhibitions
and exhibition catalogs, and also the shifting market values for the works themselves. These various aspects are
all inextricably entwined, and it’s very difficult to look at one in isolation from another. For example, take the
vagaries of the fashion for Italian Baroque painting in America. Eric Zafran has pointed
to the 1840s and 50s as the zenith of the taste in America for the grandiose and sentimental Baroque, especially the work of
Guido Reni and Carlo Dolci, which was an enthusiasm that lingered on in conservative upper class circles for some time. Henry James has one of his
most fatuous female characters say, “We have a Sassoferrato, you know, “from which we’re inseparable. “We travel with our picture and poodle.” (audience laughs) But just at the moment that
these painters were enthroned as exemplars of taste and quality, and prints and photographs of
Guido Reni’s frescoed ceiling of the large central hall
of the garden palace, the Casino dell’Aurora in Rome, adorned Victorian parlors and libraries across the country through
the medium of prints and engravings and photographs, the tides of taste began to reverse. Differing opinions of the
importance of these artists and even of the period
of the Baroque itself were increasingly being expressed, notably by John Ruskin
who wrote to his father from Italy in 1845, “I’ve pretty well now arranged
my scale of painters,” and in the bottommost group,
the school of errors and vices, were the Caracci, Guido,
Carlo Dolci, and Caravaggio whose paintings he particularly reviled as “morbid brutality” and, quote, “feeding upon horror and
ugliness and filthiness of sin.” The enthusiasm with which
Guido Reni had been regarded in the 18th century, after
all Winckelmann compared him to the Classical sculptor Praxiteles, and in the early 19th century, in which the poetic imagination of poets like Shelley were sustained, plummeted in the second
half of the century under the scornful attacks of Ruskin who condemned him and the
entire 17th century school for being overly sentimental
and lacking in sincerity and religious conviction. George Hersey, who has
written quite perceptively on the critical fortunes of
Neopolitan Baroque painting in America, noted a variety of influences that doomed the prestige of
Italian 17th century painting, above all the figure of Ruskin,
the first art historian, who was at the same time a
major literary influence, a bestselling author, an
immensely popular lecturer, and even something of a
seer, in Hersey’s words, with disciples who ranged
from Proust to Pater to Berenson to Mahatma Ghandi. The tentacles of Ruskin’s
high regard for Giotta, Fra Angelico, and the early Italian school to the detriment of the
Baroque soon reached America. In 1864, we find the collector and writer James Jackson
Jarves describing Domenichino’s Last Communion of Saint
Jerome in the Vatican, which for many a visitor to
Rome was the supreme achievement in paint after Raphael’s Transfiguration, as, quote, “a violation of artistic rule, “instigated by the
ascetic side of religion, “and lacking a proper
understanding of Christian art.” Charles Eliot Norton, the leading American disciple of Ruskin and lecturer on the fine
arts at Harvard University, influenced several generations
of scholars and collectors, such as Bernard Berenson
and Isabella Stewart Gardner with such pronouncement
that the same artist’s Martyrdom of Saint
Agnes in Bologna was one of the worst of the Bolognese school, marked by “coarse materialism,
disgusting exaggeration, “and the utter want of elevation “or truth of expression,” which, I have to say, I
find absolutely astonishing. By the 1860s, Italian Seicento painting was probably despised far more in England and American than on the continent. Happily, Ruskin’s scathing view that Reni and his ilk epitomized a
“feeble and fallen school” did not survive the reappraisal of 20th century scholarship. Instead, the sculptor Gian
Lorenzo Bernini’s view, that Reni painted pictures of paradise, has gradually been restored, beginning in the 1950s and 60s through an older generation of scholars, and then through American art historians such as Stephen Pepper and Richard Spear, and I’m confident that at least some of us in this room have come to view Guido Reni as, quote, “perhaps the purest painter “who ever wielded a brush,
an artist of unearthly talent “and labyrinthine complexity,” as Charles Dempsey once pronounced. But throughout the 20th
century as we’ll hear, there’s been a kind of yin and yang, an oscillation between praise and blame, fame and disrepute for those works that had once been so widely hailed for their beauty and religious fervor and then disparaged as
academic, monotonous, tearful, and saccharine. And even looking back to the heyday of the popularity of
Italian baroque paintings in America in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, I often have to wonder
myself just how deep and widespread this
popularity in fact was and is. It’s not that the Baroque
has lacked admirers. It’s just that maybe we
need to pinch ourselves to remind ourselves again
of the sort of outright and prejudice against and
indifference to the art of the Catholic Counter-Reformation. It’s a prejudice that’s
deeply rooted in aesthetic, social, and religious
traditions on the part of many American trustees,
patrons, and the general public. One of my favorite museum anecdotes involves the exhibition The Age of Correggio and
Carracci, which was shown in Bologna and New York
and Washington in 1986, and featured, among other pictures, the Metropolitan Museum’s
great Guercino Samson, which was given by the
Wrightsmans two years before. The late Dean Walker, who was Curator at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, was approached by a patron and a trustee, perhaps, and engaged in conversation, and she said she was going to Washington, and did he have any recommendations, and he praised this exhibition,
said she couldn’t miss it, it was a once in a lifetime
opportunity, et cetera. And sometime later he
ran into her at a party and rushed up to her and
ask her how she liked it and what she thought and saw, and she put her hand on his arm and said, “Dean, someone should tell
you those are the kinds “of paintings people
are afraid they’re going “to see in museums.” (audience laughs) But we’re jumping ahead of ourselves. At the beginning of the 20th century when it came to collecting Italian art under the influence of Charles
Eliot Norton, Berenson, Robert Langton Douglas, (clears throat) excuse me, and dealers like Duveen,
Colnaghi, and Knoedler, Renaissance masters such
as Bellini and Raphael along with gold-ground
painters of the 15th century were ascendant. None of the great American collectors, Bache, Frick, Huntingon, Mellon, Morgan, Rockefeller, Widener, considered Italian 17th
and 18th century pictures to be of any significance, and what few they did buy were restricted to the occasional sketch by Tiepolo, genre scene by Pietro Longhi, or view by Canaletto or Guardi. And now, whether these
collectors actually subscribed to Berenson’s dictum that, quote, “our grandfathers were thrilled “by Guido Reni’s ecstatic visages, “whose silly emptiness
now rouses our laughter,” their interest certainly
lay in the great masters in Dutch, Flemish, and English schools, as a glance at the pictures outside this auditorium will confirm. By the 1920s, however, this anti-Baroque
sentiment began to reverse, and remarkably swiftly. The resurgence of interest
in the Baroque began in Europe around World War I with the work of a handful of scholars including the Swiss art
historian Heinrich Wolfflin. Between the two wars the
period continued to acquire, the period of the Baroque continued to acquire increasing status. A new generation of scholars, such as the Italian art
historians Giuseppe Fiocco, Roberto Longhi, Matteo Marangoni, the Germans A.E. Brinkmann, Dagobert Frey, Nikolaus Pevsner, Hans
Posse, Werner Weisbach, and in England Tancred
Borenius, Anthony Blunt, Ellis Waterhouse, and
Denis Mahon made the art of the Baroque increasingly
familiar and accessible to specialists and students. A seminal event was this great exhibition, (clears throat) excuse me, in Florence in 1922 with
more than 1,000 paintings representing the artists of the period from Francesco Albani to Antonio Zanchi, and it’s an exhibition
that opened the eyes of dealers, scholars, collectors, and the general public
alike to the breadth and variety of Italian Baroque
painters such as Caravaggio. The Borghese picture
was in the exhibition. This was followed by others in London and elsewhere devoted to the period and a growing number
of specialist studies. Notable would be Herman
Voss’s Die Malerei des Barocks in Rome, 1924, which even
a century later continues to provide a useful
look at painting in Rome from the Caracci and Caravaggio to Anton Raphael Mengs and Domenico Corvi. In the same year,
Sacheverell Sitwell published Southern Baroque Art, a study of painting, architecture, and music in Italy and Spain of the 17th and 18th centuries in which he boldly, if
perhaps prematurely, declared, “Baroque art needs no defense now. “The victory has been won a long time.” The changing attitude of the 1920s toward Italian Baroque painting
in America is reflected not only in the remarkable
collection assembled by the circus master and
entrepreneur John W. Ringling, as we’ll hear from Virginia
Brilliant in a moment, but also by a host of
acquisitions that were made by American museums in the 1920s. These were noted as signs of
their gradual reinstatement to the public’s good estimation in a Metropolitan Museum
bulletin article in 1929 by the curator Harry Wehle whose own institution did
not make a serious effort to collect Baroque paintings
until relatively recently, as we’ll learn tomorrow from Andrea Bayer. And, of course, the culmination
of this remarkable decade of the 1920s was the first exhibition of Italian Baroque paintings
held at the Fogg Art Museum in January and February of 1929. Thanks to Eric Zafran, we actually have a detailed
decade by decade account of the rehabilitation of the
Italian Baroque in America, which is well beyond the
scope of my introduction. The developments in
the 1930s and 1940s are to a large extent dominated
by the activities of Ringling, whose great Pietro da Cortona
bought in 1930 you see; A. Everett Austin, “Chick” Austin, director of the Wadsworth Atheneum who acquired in 1943
Caravaggio’s Saint Francis, which was for many years
the only authentic painting by the artist in this country,
which he bought for $17,000 from Arnold Seligmann, Rey and Company; and Samuel Kress, the
businessman and philanthropist and founder of the S. and H.
Kress five and 10 cent stores. From 1927 to 1936,
Kress bought exclusively from the Italian dealer
Alessandro Contini Bonacossi, who conceived for him the
ambitious, improbable project of acquiring a fine work by every known Italian master. By 1935, he had invested
the rough equivalent of $60,000,000 in today’s
money in his collection, and in the next two years he
more than doubled that outlay. Now, in accordance with
the taste of the day, Kress’s earliest purchases were almost all Italian Renaissance
works from the 13th to the 16th centuries,
with the notable exception of a group of Italian 18th
century Venetian paintings and this fine Panini
interior of the Pantheon, which he bought in 1927, which
is in the National Gallery. Now, it may be that Contini
shrewdly kept from Kress the excesses of Italian
17th century painting, the martyrdoms, the
adorations, the penitent saints that to the previous generation epitomized the sick sensuality, the
melodrama, superstition, and popery of the period,
but when Kress acquired Tanzio da Varallo’s
Saint Sebastian in 1935, he was certainly bucking
the taste of his generation. The work of Tanzio remains
as shockingly original today as it did in 1922 when the Saint
Sebastian startled visitors to the Palazzo Pitti exhibition where, incidentally, Roberto
Longhi correctly identified the author of the painting as Tanzio, and it brought the vivid
and eccentric character of his art to a wide
audience for the first time. But in our discussions, which is why we didn’t
include Kress by himself, he’s something of an outlier, because, as I said, he set out a priori to create a collection
ranging from Cimabue to the end of the 18th century
and thus, by definition, he bought the very Italian paintings that collectors like Andrew Mellon and Henry Clay Frick had shunned. After Kress became ill in the early 1940s, the responsibility for the
future growth and development of the collection fell upon the shoulders of his younger brother, Rush Kress, who bought this Fetti Veil of Veronica in 1943, which is in the National Gallery, who, with the advice of the
restorer Stephen Pichetto and later Mario Modestini and the art historians Wilhelm
Suida and Robert Manning, set out to form, quote,
“not only the most complete, “but also the most beautiful collection “of Italian Baroque paintings,” in the words of a memorandum
that Suida wrote in 1949. And the moment was propitious, because the 1950s were a golden age for acquiring Baroque paintings. Never before or since were
they so cheap and plentiful. The social, the political,
and economic upheavals of World War II resulted in the dispersal of many great aristocratic
collections on the continent, but particularly in England, and suddenly large numbers of 17th and 18th century Italian
paintings were available on the London art market. And I think that what fired the enthusiasm for the Baroque in America
was the availability of fine pictures by neglected masters that could be acquired for a few hundred or a few thousand dollars. In the early 1940s, the exchange rate was one
pound to four dollars. One British pound equaled
four American dollars. By the second half of the decade, it had dropped from one pound to $2.80. At the Ellesmere sale in Christie’s in London in October 1946, paintings by the Caracci,
Domenichino, and Guido, who for a century earlier had been revered in England as the flowers of the Seicento, were sold for prices that we
can scarcely believe today. A Vision of Saint Francis
by Annibale Caracci which was owned by John Pope-Hennessey and is today in the
National Gallery of Canada, sold at that sale for 23 pounds, or $92. Domenichino’s The Way to Calvary, also owned by John Pope-Hennessey
and today in the Getty, a small masterpiece on
copper of around 1610, brought 42 pounds, or $168. And one of the finest pictures
in the Kress Collection, Lodovico Caracci’s The
Dream of Saint Catherine of Alexandria, which is
in the National Gallery, was acquired from Contini in 1950, brought only 52 pounds, or $210 at the Ellesmere sale. As a result in the 1950s the prices of Italian 17th century
paintings brought very little in comparison to their
exceptional artistic quality and historical importance. And buying often in London,
dealers like Julius Wiesner, David Koetser, Elkan and Abris Silberman, Frederick Kleinberger, Nicholas
Acquavella, Frederick Mont, and Oscar Klein shrewdly
seized this opportunity and brought these pictures
to New York for sale. And at the same time a
number of collectors, a small number of inspired
collectors realized the extraordinary opportunity for them, and beginning around 1950, as we will hear this
afternoon and tomorrow, Walter Chrysler Jr.,
Louis Ferre, Paul Ganz, Robert and Bettina Suida Manning, and Dr. Bob Jones University, (laughs) Dr. Bob Jones Jr. (audience laughs) I was about to say all began to form their important
eponymous collections. Among these, perhaps the
collection of Paul Ganz, shown here remarkably
calm and self-absorbed in a portrait by Gabby Koppelman, is perhaps the least familiar
today, owing to the dispersal of the nearly 1,000
pictures that he owned, some of the best of which were acquired by his friends Morton
and Mary Jane Harris, and subsequently given by them
to the Metropolitan Museum and the Palmer Museum at
Penn State University. He’s certainly remembered fondly by many for his enthusiasm, for his manic enthusiasm for Italian Baroque paintings, and for the late-night soirees that he and his wife Eula
held in their apartment on Upper Park Avenue, which were inevitably
centered around their pictures by Cirano, Fracanzano,
Guercino, Morazzone, Alessandro Turchi, and Pietro Testa. I think this beautiful Herodias by Francesco Cairo is
representative of his interest. It was a picture that he gave
to the Metropolitan Museum in 1973 in memory of Rudolf Wittkower, whose classes he attended
and to whom he was devoted. I’m sorry this slide is so bad, but it’s a good illustration
with respect to the economics of Italian Baroque painting and reminds us the 50s
were the halcyon years. For thereafter prices began
to rise gradually in the 60s and then sharply in the 80s and 90s. And this lovely, small, it’s a little panel that
measures 12 by 15 1/2 inches, depicting the rest on
the flight into Egypt by Bartolomeo Schedoni, was bought on the London art market about 1950 or so by Julius Wiesner. He sold it to Victor Spark,
who sold it to Frederick Mont, who offered it to sale for
about $2,000 to $3,000. Then he sold it in 1956 to Paul Ganz. In 1968, he sold it to a
private collector in New York for $6,500, who lent it
to the Metropolitan Museum for a decade beginning in 1987, insured for between $200,000 and $300,000. The painting was offered with an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000
at Sotheby’s in New York on 28 January, 1999 and sold for $772,000. And another example which
I’m not illustrating but many of you will know
is of course the great, dramatic Ribera representing Prometheus that Barbara Piasecka
Johnson sold in 2009. Patrick Matthieson’s consigner paid $31,000 in 1982. Matthieson himself sold the picture to Barbara Johnson two years later in 1984 for $460,000, and then she sold it at her sale in 2009, 25 years later, for slightly north of $6,000,000. Now, it wasn’t just private collectors that benefited from this. Public institutions also bought in the 1950s and 60s advantageously. Seicento painting was not
at all popular at the time of the opening of the Cleveland
Museum of Art in 1916, and the institution was slow to add Italian Baroque pictures. In 1929 they bought a painting by Strozzi, followed in 1950 by this powerful vision of Saint Jerome by Gian Battista Langetti. But it wasn’t until the
1960s that the museum under Sherman Lee and the
curator Ann Lurie began to concentrate on the Italian Baroque. And within a space of a few
years they had paintings by Cavallino, this Adoration
of the Shepherds bought from Frederick Mont, Lisgouli, Giordano, Gentileschi, Guercino, Reni, and so forth, culminating in Caravaggio’s
Crucifixion of Saint Andrew in 1976. The acquisition of
Italian Baroque paintings in Toledo and Minneapolis, under the aegis of Otto Wittmann and
Tony Clark respectively, followed a similar pattern. For example, beginning in
1960 and largely buying from Colnaghi and Agnew’s, Toledo acquired within a dozen
years important paintings by Batoni, Cortona,
Luca Giordano, Maratti, Sebastiano Ricci, Solimena, and notably this great Mattia Preti, which they bought for $25,000 from Colnaghi in 1961. Minneapolis followed,
as I said, similarly. They bought some two dozen
Italian Baroque paintings in the 1960s alone, including
this great Castiglione, which once adorned an altar in the Capuchin Church of Osimo, which was bought for $30,000 in 1966. Burton Frederickson was
doing something of the same at the Getty Museum, with buying pictures such as
this beautiful Carlo Dolci Saint Matthew Writing His Gospel. And the result of this tremendous
activity in the 60s was that suddenly in America
we could demonstrate, we could represent in detail the history of the Italian Baroque. In the important exhibition Art in Italy: 1600 to 1700, which was organized in Detroit in 1965, the loans included Tanzio’s
Saint John the Baptist in the Wilderness, which Samuel
Kress had bought in 1939, and Guercino’s Semiramis in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, which it had purchased in 1948 for $1,000. And even more narrowly
focused exhibitions, such as the Genoese Masters:
Cambiaso to Magnasco, which was organized by the Mannings and shown in Dayton, Sarasota,
and Hartford in 1962, and Florentine Baroque Art,
organized by Joan Nissman at the Metropolitan Museum in 1969, included painters which
today are recherche, Giovanni Balducci and
Giovanni Battista Lupicini, but also works by the
more familiar masters, Francesco Ferrini, Lorenzo
Lippi, Simone Pignoni, and of course Carlo Dolci. The point is that these
exhibitions could now be assembled exclusively or at least largely
from American collections. I’d like to return to
the Kress Collection, because, as you know, one of
its distinguishing features is the variety, the
number, and the quality of its Italian Baroque paintings. The Kress Foundation took shrewd advantage of this neglect of later Italian painting in the 1940s and 50s and began to acquire
such important examples of the Baroque and its aftermath, as Antonio de Bellis’s Sacrifice of Noah, which was bought from
Julius Wiesner in 1945, Castiglione’s Allegory of Vanity bought from Wiesner in 1952, and Baciccio’s pair of Old
Testament scenes bought from Contini in 1950. Now, that these paintings
are now in Houston, Kansas City, and Atlanta, and not in the National Gallery
in Washington as intended, brings us back to this recurrent prejudice against Italian Baroque painting. From the moment of Samuel
Kress’s initial gift to the National Gallery in
1939, he endorsed the principal of exchanges to improve the
quality of the collections on view in Washington. For 20 years, from the opening of the Kress Collection galleries in 1941 until the presentation of the
final Kress gifts in 1961, paintings had been
delivered to Washington, exhibited at the gallery, and either retained for its collections or, in the case of most
of the Baroque pictures, returned to New York for dispersal to one of the regional galleries. And the result, as you know,
is a superlative collection of Italian Renaissance
paintings in Washington, but a collection in
which the major figures of the Italian Baroque,
Domenichino, Caravaggio, Reni, Castiglione, Mola, Rosa, Baciccio is conspicuous. The decision to relinquish the majority of the 17th and 18th century paintings to the regional galleries
was made by John Walker, the gallery’s Chief
Curator from 1938 to 1956, and Director from 1956 to 1969. Walker was a disciple of Bernard Berenson who in 1949 had written, “In Europe itself, art history must avoid “what is not contributed
to the mainstream, “no matter how interesting,
how magnificent in itself. “It should exclude, for
instance, most German “and even Spanish and Dutch art. (audience laughs) “It should dwell less and less “on Italian art after Caravaggio, “and end altogether by the
middle of the 18th century “with Solimena and Tiepolo.” And Walker, thus encouraged, I should say Walker encouraged
the Kress Foundation to create a great collection of Italian Renaissance
painting and sculpture for the National Gallery,
but his disinclination to bolster the Baroque holdings of the Kress pictures there
is especially frustrating when we consider the prices and the rarity and soon to be the impossibility of ever remedying that. These pictures are almost unobtainable. I’ve noted elsewhere two
paintings that would be in the Kress Collection
in the National Gallery if it weren’t for John
Walker’s opposition: Valentin de Boulogne’s Musical
Party now in Los Angeles, a superb work painted in Rome by the greatest Caravaggist master, which, I think you’ll agree
by virtue of its quality, its provenance, and subject, is without parallel in the
National Gallery’s collections, and, perhaps even more dramatically, Caravaggio’s brooding, melancholic
Saint John the Baptist, now in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, which Mario Modestini and the Kress staff
desperately wanted to acquire. But looked at nationally, the Italian Baroque pictures that Washington lost now
grace Raleigh, Houston, Memphis, Kansas City, El Paso, San Francisco, Tulsa, and other cities. Now, in helping to
organize the proceedings of this symposium, I’m conscious of so many
lacunae in the program. Perhaps we should’ve taken
a closer look at the role and activities of some of
the New York art dealers in the 1950s, notably Julius
Wiesner and David Koetser, the Dutch-English art dealer who sold so many pictures
to the Kress Foundation after he settled in
New York in about 1950. Tomorrow Patrice Marandel will discuss one of the more remarkable figures in the later development of our subject, Andrew Ciechanowiecki who, as the director of the Heim Gallery in
London, spurred interest in the Baroque as a field
of collecting in America. He established the precedent
of scholarly dealer catalogs, and he sold many pictures
to American museums. From this single catalog
alone he sold pictures to Cleveland, this great Solimena, the Snite Museum at Notre Dame, the Getty, and the Art Institute of Chicago, as well as to Berlin, Birmingham, and the National Gallery in London. Here’s the de Mura that he sold to the Art Institute from that catalog. I personally would’ve
liked to have heard more in detail about the English dealers, Jack Baer, for example,
or the group of young men who gathered around Roddy
Thesiger at Colnaghi in the 1970s, like Patrick Matthieson
and Michael Simpson, who played such an
important role in our story. And in an ideal world with
no constraints on our time, we might have looked more
closely at the circumstances behind some of the more
remarkable, if anomalous, acquisitions of Italian
Baroque paintings in America before 1900, such as the
great Cecco del Caravaggio Resurrection of Christ which was acquired by the Art Institute of Chicago in 1834, or, say, the activities of 19th century collectors like Thomas Jefferson Bryan in New York. Henry Walters’ 1902 purchase in Rome of the large collection of
Italian pictures assembled by a Vatican priest and a
member of the papal court, Don Marcello Massarenti, which included this great Strozzi
Adoration of the Shepherd, merits mention. And, of course, there’s another omission, is the development of
the important holdings of Italian Baroque
paintings in the museums of Greater Los Angeles: the
Los Angeles County Museum, whose Adoration of the
Shepherds was acquired, which you see here,
from Matthieson in 1981, the Getty, and the Norton Simon Museum. And I, ideally, wish we
had had a session entitled The Italian Baroque Today, to remind ourselves both of the activities of private collectors in
this field in recent years, such as, say, Mark Fisch
and Nelson Shanks , who come to mind or of the many great
paintings of the period that have enriched American museums over the past three decades, such as the magnificent Mattia
Preti Saint John the Baptist, which San Francisco bought in 1981 from Heim Gallery in Paris, the Gentileschi Lot and his Daughters that the Getty bought in
1998 from Johnny van Haeften, and the great Guercino Christ
and the Woman of Samaria, acquired in 2010 by the Kimbell Museum from Adam Williams in
memory of Ted Pillsbury. But as President Clinton famously reminded a young White House intern,
every day can’t be Sunday, and we have a wonderful program with a roster of distinguished speakers which I hope you’re
looking forward to hearing as much as I am. Thank you. (audience applauds)

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