Thursday, June 27, 2002

A heritage on canvas

Art museum gets major gift

By Marilyn Bauer,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo] Julie Aronson, a Cincinnati Art Museum curator, and museum director Timothy Rub appear at a news conference to announce the museum's acquisition of 78 paintings from Procter & Gamble's collection.
(Gary Landers photo)
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        Cincinnati Art Museum announced Wednesday it will become the new owners of 78 paintings from the Procter & Gamble corporate art collection, known for its comprehensive holdings of historical Cincinnati artists. The transfer will take place sometime this summer.

        “The superb group of paintings assembled by Procter & Gamble over the past two decades will immeasurably strengthen the museum's own holdings of works by Cincinnati artists,” said Timothy Rub, art museum director.

        “It will also encourage others to help the museum develop the finest collection of this type at a time when significant national attention will be focused on the city and its artistic heritage with the opening of the (museum's) Cincinnati Wing in 2003.”

        The paintings date from 1839 to 1950 and were acquired for P&G by Closson's Gallery director, Phyllis Weston.

[photo] Elizabeth Nourse La mere (The Mother), 1888, oil on canvas, 45 12 x 32 inches
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[photo] Frank Duveneck Lady in Red, c. 1885, oil on canvas, 26 x 20 inches
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[photo] Joseph Henry Sharp Indian Village, c. 1910, oil on canvas, 23 12 x 20 inches
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[photo] Henry Farny Indian Scout, 1899, gouache, 14 x 9 inches
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        The collection, the brainchild of retired P&G Chairman and Chief Executive John Smale, is notable not only for its breadth but for its quality.

        “And it has a focus,” Ms. Weston said. “I don't think there has been a collection so focused on Cincinnati painters of this period who became so important to American Impressionism.”

        The collection is worth several million dollars, said Riley Humler, gallery director for Cincinnati Art Galleries, downtown. The museum and P&G declined to release any estimate of the value, citing security reasons; Ms. Weston signed a confidentiality agreement that prevents her from disclosing the price of the pieces she acquired.

        But works by artists of this period, such as Robert Blum and Elizabeth Nourse, have gone for as much as $2 million at auction. And Eric Baumgartner of New York's Hirschl & Adler gallery, one of Ms. Weston's sources, said the interest in American painting has become more broad-based, resulting in higher values.

        “The beauty is priceless,” said Charles Weiner of the Patricia Weiner Gallery in Montgomery, specialists in Cincinnati painters of the period. “It's a magnificent gift. It will make the museum's collection the grandest local painting collection of any museum in the country.”

International influences

        Among the remarkable pieces is ""The Silk Merchant, Japan” by Robert Blum. Cincinnati Art Museum has the foremost collection of works by this artist but does not own a major oil painting from the extended visit he made to Japan in the early 1890s, considered by some to be the most significant phase of his career.

        Mr. Blum was one of the first American artists to visit Japan, a place that held a lifetime fascination for him. His most well-known painting from this period, “The Ameya,” hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

[photo] Robert Blum The Silk Merchant, Japan, 1890-93, oil on canvas, 19 12 by 50 18 inches
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        According to the collection's catalog, “The Silk Merchant, Japan” is interesting in its exotic (in 1890) depiction of Japanese life and the portrayal of Japanese artistry in the making and selling of textiles.

        Typical of the period, “The Silk Merchant, Japan” reflects a change in American painting — the point at which American art joined with the trends found on the international scene.

        “The decades following the Civil War brought America into the world in terms of its taste in paintings,” Mr. Baumgartner explained. “Prior to the Civil War, Americans were very parochial seeking out paintings they viewed as native to America. But after the war they began to embrace more wholeheartedly the trends in Europe — Barbizon Landscape and Impressionism — translating them for their own audience.”

        The ""Venetian Lace Makers” in the CAM collection and the “The Silk Merchant, Japan” were both owned by Blum's patron Alfred C. Clark. It is an excellent example of how the P&G collection enhances what the CAM already owns.

Range of creativity

[photo] Herman Wessell Mount Adams from Eden Park, c. 1935, oil on canvas, 24 x 29 inches
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[photo] Edward Potthast Long Beach, c. 1922, oil on canvas, 24 x 30 inches
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        “The P&G collection fills gaps and strengthens the museum's already strong collection,” says Julie Aronson, curator of American painting and sculpture for the museum. “They represent different aspects of an artist's work and helps us tell those stories.”

        Three magnificent landscapes by pioneering African-American artist Robert Duncanson in the P&G collection — ""Landscape with Waterfall,” “Minnenopa Falls” and ""Pass at Leny” complement the three Duncanson paintings already in the museum's possession.

        As a group, they will demonstrate the creative range of the artist. With the addition of the three oils, the Cincinnati Art Museum becomes one of the three leading repositories of Duncanson's work in the United States along with the Smithsonian Institution and Detroit Institute of Arts.

        The P&G collection also includes paintings by several artists that are not represented in the museum's collection or are represented by lesser examples of their work.

"A good neighbor'

        P&G officials said the gift was made for two reasons: to celebrate the art museum's new wing and because of a redesign of the company's executive floor where the paintings were on display, but not to the public.

        “P&G is trying to be a good neighbor,” said Bruce L. Byrnes, the company's vice chairman and a member of the board of trustees of the art museum. “It will help us get the art out to our growing and diverse audience and to celebrate our rich heritage. Very few people have seen the paintings, let alone engaged with them.”

        The paintings will first go on view Feb. 15, 2003 at the art museum — the first day of the P&G Fine Arts Fund Sampler Weekend — in the Director's Gallery where the current Treasures from the Taft Museum are on display. The paintings will be on rotation until August 2004 when they will be integrated into the Cincinnati Wing galleries.

        The total P&G collection consisted of 86 paintings. Several of those paintings, especially those depicting scenes from the company, will stay on the executive floor.


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