Published: February 10, 2004
A gem of a museum has added luster to its collection with the acquisition of 30 Old Master drawings from the collection of the late John and Alice Steiner. The drawings represent the most important addition to the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute since it was established by the Clarks in 1955.
The drawings are on view in “Old Master Drawings from the Steiner Collection,” a show that was hastily assembled after the museum’s board met in early December to vote on the purchase of the drawings. The installation opened later the same week.
The acquisition includes works by Rembrandt, Castiglione, Tiepolo and Fragonard. The images round out the Old Master drawings that are the core of the museum’s collections. Of the 30 acquired works, 19 date from the Seventeenth Century, fleshing out the museum’s Italian and Northern schools holdings. The drawings range from pen and ink sketches to fully developed studies for paintings to finished presentation drawings.
The entire Steiner collection of approximately 150 Old Master drawings has been on loan to the Clark since 1995. Some of the drawings have been on view at the museum and have been included in traveling shows at such institutions as the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard, the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Yale University Art Gallery, the Krannert Art Museum, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art and the High Museum of Art.
A handful were placed on view last summer in a memorial exhibit to Alice Steiner, who died in April. Nearly all have been available to scholars and researchers in the graduate study programs sponsored by the museum and neighboring Williams College. The remaining 120 images in the Steiner estate will remain on loan to the museum for the foreseeable future.
“After significant acquisitions in prints and photography over the years, we are now thrilled to make such an important and transformative addition to the drawings collection,” said Michael Conforti, director of the Clark Art Institute. “These exceptional works, acquired from one of the notable collections formed in the last half of the Twentieth Century, enhance the depth of our holdings. The extraordinary quality of these drawings is in keeping with the quality of those collected by our founders, who have long been recognized as among the most important American collectors of drawings in the first half of the Twentieth Century.”
James A. Ganz, curator of prints, drawings and photographs at the Clark, worked with the Steiner heirs to determine which images the museum would acquire. Since financial constraints made it impossible for the Clark to purchase the entire Steiner collection, Ganz selected the images that would best fit the museum’s collection. He made his choices case by case, he said, based on excellence, depth and variety in technique and subject matter.
Ganz’s goal was to acquire as many of the best quality pieces for the museum as possible. Another factor was what he described as gaps in the Clarks’ collection. For example, he explained, the museum was not particularly strong in the area of Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century Italian drawings. Now it is.
The addition of Perino Del Vaga’s Sixteenth Century sketch of horses is particularly apt, Ganz said. The museum has strong horse imagery in its collection, including several Degas horses, the Gericault “Trumpeter of the Hussars on Horseback,” which Clark’s mother bought, and a Remington. Sterling Clark, founder with his wife Francine of the museum, owned the stallion Never Say Die, which won the derby at Epsom Downs in 1954.
Perino Del Vaga’s (who was born Pietro Buonaccorsi) muscular horses in his circa 1530-1535 “Studies of Horses” explode off the sheet on which they were rendered. The image is pure magic. Ganz described the drawing as “a knockout,” adding that it is “head and shoulders above anything that is out there.” Every muscle and ligament is engaged in the horses that rear across the sheet
“It’s very exciting to enter the gallery with these great master drawings,” said Ganz. “They give you a sense of looking over the artist’s shoulder. You can see how the sheet was filled out.”
Perino’s “Saint Peter” in pen and brown ink is squared in black chalk illustrating the artist’s plan. The sheet is a sketch for a larger work in which the saint, with the suggestion of a halo, rests comfortably among the clouds making entries to his book.
Another piece with an equine theme is Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo’s rococo “Galloping Centaur” in pen and brown ink and wash over black chalk.
Museum Director Conforti confirmed that the museum had paid “in the neighborhood” of $2 million for the drawings. Their direct acquisition kept them above the fray of the open market. Conforti conceded that should similar pieces come to market, competition would be very strong. He said the museum purchased “those pieces most appropriate to the collection.”
Conforti’s favorite among the Steiner acquisitions is Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione’s exquisitely tempestuous 1651 “Crucifixion with the Virgin, Saints John and Mary Magdalene, and God the Father.” It is done in brown oil paint with touches of blue, red and white. It is not a traditional crucifixion scene in that the virgin and the saints gaze diagonally across and up the page at the crucifix where Jesus gazes downward.
Conforti calls it “one of Castiglione’s greatest pieces and a good baroque addition to the collection.” He said, “It extends the collection enormously,” adding, “the museum has only a few crucifixion scenes and plenty of virgin and child images.”
Works by other Seventeenth Century Italian artists previously not represented in the Clarks’ drawing collection are now part of the permanent collection. The new additions are “Seated Male Figure” by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, who was called Guercino because he was cross-eyed, and sheets by Domenico-Maria Canuti, Salvator Rosa, Jacopo da Empoli, Giovanni Battista della Rovere and Domenico Piola. Il Pomarancio (Cristofano Roncalli) is represented by two chalk drawings, the ethereal “Two Studies of a Youth” and the very beautiful “Studies of an Angel Playing a Viola da Gamba.” Pier Francesco Mola, known for his sharp caricatures, is represented by “Caricature of a Duck Hunter and Immaculate Conception.”
Until the current purchase of the Steiner drawings, the museum owned only two Rembrandt drawings, including “Christ Finding the Apostles Asleep” that Sterling Clark bought in London in 1913, his first drawing acquisition. Now it has made another, and a spectacular one at that. Ganz calls Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn’s circa 1652-53 “Nathan Admonishing David” “a perfect drawing in which simple elements combine to make a grand psychodrama. It’s a small sheet, but monumental in its way.” The sheet is perfect – there is not even a hint of a superfluous line in the image.
Prior to the Steiner acquisition, the museum had no drawings from the school of Rembrandt. Now it does. It has added works by two Dutch baroque artists who studied under Rembrandt: Ferdinand Bol’s circa 1645 “Christ and the Daughter of Jairus” and Philips Koninck’s ink and wash “The Zaagmoelenpoort, Amsterdam” that he did in the 1650s.
Benedetto Luti’s 1712 pastel and chalk “Head of an Apostle Reading” leaps off the page, its colors are brilliant still after nearly 300 years. It was chosen because it is a perfect Eighteenth Century pastel to complement the museum’s amazing collection of Nineteenth Century pastels.
Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s 1758 “The Hermit’s Court in the Coliseum” drawn en plein air in Italy, is reminiscent of the work of Tiepolo, who he greatly admired.
John Steiner, a founder of Supradur Manufacturing, a building materials company, and his wife Alice began collecting Old Master drawings in 1971. The Steiners were serious collectors who relied on the guidance of Konrad Oberhuber, former professor of art at Harvard University and former director of the Albertina Museum in Vienna. Their collection of Old Master drawings is highly regarded as solid and of very high quality. They became familiar with the Clark when it was part of a 1997 show of some of their collection organized by the Fogg Art Museum. John Steiner died in 1983. It was after Alice Steiner moved from Larchmont to Lenox, Mass., in 1995 when she placed most of the collection on loan to the Clark. She continued to add to her collection of Old Master drawings until her death.
The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute is at 225 South Street. For information, 413-458-2303 or www.clarkart.edu.
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