Published: February 13, 2007
With the return of its Old Master paintings from a three-year national tour, the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art will present the glories of its collections in “Faith and Fortune: Five Centuries of European Masterworks,” March 2–December 9.
Drawing upon the fine and decorative arts of the Renaissance through the neoclassical and romantic eras, “Faith and Fortune” will showcase approximately 500 treasures — more than 125 paintings, exquisite objects made of bronze, silver, ivory, ceramics and glass, as well as select sculptures.
These paintings and other two- and three-dimensional objects will be shown as never before, intermixed and arranged by chronology, geography and theme, to provide windows into the historical and cultural realms where these works originated.
“While these remarkable collections have lived together under the atheneum’s roof for many decades,” said director Willard Holmes, “this will be the first time visitors will see them presented in a unified approach, telling the story of Western artistic genius over five centuries.”
Recurring themes include the creation of art as an expression of religious faith and its display for devotional purposes; art as a symbol of personal honor, reputation and wealth, with some being objects of practical use; and art as a demonstration of intellectual achievement. Other leitmotifs include exploration and discovery, invention and trade, historicism and a taste for the exotic, such as chinoiserie.
The atheneum’s European art collections have their origins in bequests from J. Pierpont Morgan and from Frank C. Sumner, who established the Ella Gallup Sumner and Mary Catlin Sumner acquisition fund in 1927. Other generous donors have contributed to the growth and quality of these collections.
The Wadsworth Atheneum’s Renaissance, Baroque and rococo masterpieces are world famous. A. Everett “Chick” Austin Jr, museum director from 1927 to 1944, began this collection when such works were out of fashion. The atheneum acquired notable examples by Strozzi, Luca Giordano and the first authentic Caravaggio in an American museum, “The Ecstasy of St Francis.” Spanish and Northern paintings of the Seventeenth Century also were purchased, including works by the great French landscape painter Claude Lorraine and unusual works by Sweerts and Valdés Leal.
Austin’s successor, Charles C. Cunningham, built on this foundation, adding Baroque and rococo treasures by Frans Hals, Zurbarán and Panini. More recently have come examples by Vouet, Cigoli, Cuyp, Valerio Castello and Goltzius. The result is a collection beginning with Renaissance masters, such as Piero di Cosimo and Sebastiano del Piombo; continuing with the finest examples of Baroque painting; and culminating in a blaze of rococo splendor with Tiepolo, Canaletto, Guardi, Meléndez, Greuze and Goya.
Holdings from the neoclassical and romantic eras feature works by Delacroix, Ingres, Turner, Corot and Crolla; theatrical subjects by Fuseli and Maclise; and sculptures by Gérôme, Barye and Rodin.
At the bequest of the famous financier and ambitious collector J. Pierpont Morgan, who was born and raised in Hartford, 1,325 works of art arrived at the atheneum in 1917. These include ancient bronzes and glass, but the majority are European decorative arts objects: Renaissance majolica; Baroque glass, silver, mounted ivories, nautilus cups and other Kunstkammer objects; Meissen porcelain; and French Eighteenth Century porcelain.
The Elizabeth B. Miles silver collection illustrates the mastery of British silversmiths and the stylistic evolution in English domestic silver over three centuries, from the early Sixteenth to the Nineteenth Centuries. Miles, a native of New London, Conn., was the daughter of Theodore Bodenwein, the owner and publisher of The Day newspaper. She began collecting English silver in 1956 and made her first gift to the Atheneum in 1965; the bulk of her collection was bequeathed to the museum in 1979.
The Richard and Georgette A. Koopman collection of Dutch Delft, comprising of more than 60 pieces, the majority made in Delft in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, represents numerous forms and styles of both Western- and Asian-themed decoration. There are plates, bowls, tiles, plaques, tulip vases, strawberry dishes, butter tubs, cow creamers and tobacco jars. Some pieces are decorated in polychrome enamels. The collection came to the atheneum in 2004, at the bequest of Georgette A. Koopman, a longtime member of the museum’s board of trustees and curatorial committee.
The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art is at 600 Main Street. For information, www.wadsworthatheneum.org or 860- 278-2670.
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm