Published: June 7, 2011
Currently on view until August 28, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art (SBMA) is presenting a selection of paintings that have been lent by two foundations. “Van Gogh to Munch: European Masterworks from the Armand Hammer Foundation and Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation” presents nearly 30 works, combining 12 paintings from SBMA’s permanent collection with 17 loans from the two most important American collections of Impressionist and Modern art.
The mandate of both of these organizations is to share the works bequeathed to them by their founders with the public by lending to museums throughout the country. Upon conclusion of this special summer exhibition in McCormick Gallery, the loans from the two foundations will be reintegrated into the museum’s permanent collection installation in Preston Morton and Ridley-Tree Galleries, where they will be on view for the next two years.
The paintings on view from the Armand Hammer Foundation represent just a small fraction of the collection put together by Dr Armand Hammer (1898‱990), an American business tycoon most closely associated with Occidental Petroleum, a company he ran for decades, but also well-known for the extraordinary works of art he gifted to his namesake, the Hammer Museum at the University of California, Los Angeles from 1965 through 1990.
Hammer’s interest in art originated during his travels to the former Soviet Union in the early 1920s, where he had initially hoped to practice medicine, but realized the greatest need of the people was a reliable source of food †which turned into one of his first business ventures. Hammer began collecting art as he decorated his home in Moscow, and brought many of the works back when he returned to the United States in 1929. These pieces were the foundation for the Hammer Galleries in New York, which continues to operate today.
The works on loan in this exhibition complement beautifully many of the most beloved works of art in SBMA’s collection of Nineteenth Century French art and have been installed so as to demonstrate this easy dialogue. Works by Corot, Chagall, Degas, Fantin-Latour, Morisot and Renoir from the Hammer Foundation are presented side-by-side with canvases by the same or related masters from the museum’s own collection or from area private collections.
For example, the van Gogh from the Hammer Foundation dates from just one year after the landscape on deposit here from a private collection of the outskirts of Paris; and yet there is a dramatic transformation of the artist’s palette from the earthy tones of the landscape to the bursts of pigment swagged on with a loaded brush in the floral still life. Alongside the museum’s “Villas in Bordighera,” 1884, by Monet, the Hammer Foundation’s Renoir landscape instances these two artists’ shared passion for the Mediterranean landscape in the 1880s.
Native Texan Sarah Campbell Blaffer (1885‱975) was an art patron, philanthropist and daughter of William Thomas, one of the founders of the Texas Company (later Texaco). Her devotion to the visual arts began during a visit to the Louvre on her wedding trip to Europe in 1909 after her marriage to Robert E. Lee Blaffer, one of the founders of Humble Oil and Refining. An early benefactor of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFA), Blaffer formed her foundation in 1964 with the primary goal to bring the visual arts to people throughout the state of Texas.
The foundation’s collection, much of which is still on semipermanent display at MFA, comprises mostly Old Master paintings dating from the Renaissance through the Eighteenth Century. The handful of early Twentieth Century, northern Modernist paintings are frequently lent since the rest of the Blaffer collection offers little context for them.
The large canvases by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (1863‱944), in particular, are powerful embodiments of Western sensibilities at the turn of the last century, when cutting-edge art strove to represent the angst-ridden experience of the modern individual, alienated from society and suffering from the neuroses that Sigmund Freud would so eloquently describe in his Civilization and its Discontents , 1930.
American artist Lyonel Feininger (1871‱956) and his work “Zirchow 1,” 1912. makes for an intriguing, but perhaps less obvious, comparison with SBMA’s painting by German painter Max Pechstein, “Die Alte Brücke (The Old Bridge),” 1910‱1. “Zirchow I” is part of a series of increasingly abstract landscapes, centering on the architectural motif of a church. The sharply delineated shards of color reflect the artist’s debt to Cubism. By contrast, Pechstein’s landscape, which was probably done just after his visit to Paris where he encountered the strident hues of Matisse and the Fauves, is more blatantly anti-naturalistic in palette. Despite these differences, the works were completed only a year apart.
The Santa Barbara Museum of Art is at 1130 State Street. For information, 805-963-4364 or www.sbma.net .
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