Published: September 24, 2002
GREENWICH, CONN. – The major fall exhibition of the Bruce Museum of Arts and Science presents more than 50 paintings highlighting the rich holdings of American and Western European art from private collectors in the greater Greenwich area.
On view through January 5, “Pleasures of Collecting: Part I, Renaissance to Impressionist Masterpieces” provides an opportunity to view masterpieces rarely shown to the public. It includes the art of Fifteenth Century Italian Renaissance masters, Seventeenth Century Dutch landscape and genre artists, and Nineteenth Century French masters such as Bouguereau, Boldini, Manet, Seurat, Degas, Pissarro, Monet and van Gogh.
The exhibition is underwritten by JP Morgan Private Bank, the Connecticut Commission on the Arts, Susan E. Lynch and Greta R. Pofcher.
Exhibitions of privately owned art, drawn from local collections and often assembled on a vast scale, were once the mainstay of exhibition halls and museums. Today museum professionals and their audiences tend to favor leaner, more highly conceived monographic or thematic exhibitions. And yet there is still much to be learned from casting the net more broadly.
The Bruce Museum is an ideal place to mount a survey of private collecting because it is located in a regional community where a remarkable number of distinguished collectors reside. Although centered on a township of barely 60,000 inhabitants, greater Greenwich is one of the most important centers of private art collecting in the United States. From the holdings of area collectors one can assemble a survey of Western art from the Renaissance to the present that would be the envy of many museums. So extensive are the private reserves that the exhibition will be mounted in two parts: pre-circa 1900 art, and Twentieth Century and contemporary. The later show, “Pleasures of Collecting: Part II, 20th Century and Contemporary Art,” opens in January.
Though not so numerous as later art, examples of Fifteenth and Sixteenth Century Italian Renaissance paintings have been collected, including works by accomplished artists such as Bertolo di Fredi, Battista Dossi and Georgio Vasari. To compare the images of the “Adoration of the Magi” by Bertolo di Fredi and by Vasari is to understand the range of the achievement and the variety of style encompassed by the Renaissance.
Many area collectors are drawn to Northern Baroque paintings, specifically Seventeenth Century Dutch art. While one encounters a few Northern Renaissance and Mannerist works, more plentiful are Dutch paintings of the following century. There are fine examples locally of the Dutch landscape tradition that celebrate the empirical observation of nature and its creative representation.
The exhibition offers, for example, a bracing image of the windblown shore of the Zuider Zee by Jacob van Ruisdael, an intimate wooded landscape by his pupil Meindert Hobbema and a subtle symphony of the hues, from tawny brown to silky gray, in a beach scene by Simon de Vlieger, who along with Ruisdael was one of the originators of this perennially popular, and for this shoreline community, topical theme.
Another strength of local collections is the Dutch genre scene or images of everyday life. On display are fine examples by, among others, the great comedian of Dutch painting, Jan Steen. Works range from the latter’s frisky low life tavern scene to the powdered wigs and refinements of Adriaen van der Werff’s musical couple. A particularly fine and characteristic example of the Dutch genre tradition is the amusing and animated “Tavern Scene” by Cornelis Bega.
Still life is represented in examples of an early work by the important and gifted woman painter Rachel Ruysch and a trompe l’oeil by Pieter Gerritsz van Roestraten. Also on view are religious images by Jan van Bijlert and Thomas de Keyser, as well as Frans van Mieris’s depiction of the classical tale of the “Death of Lucretia.”
Eighteenth Century paintings include a pair of exceptionally fine landscapes by the charming French master Jean Pillement, as well as an oil sketch for one of François Boucher’s decorations for the Dauphine’s apartments in Versailles. Also on display are an oil sketch of a young girl by the great English portrait painter and satirist William Hogart and an important portrait of one of the painter’s patrons by the English Victorian artist George Frederic Watts.
More numerous are the works of Nineteenth Century French masters. These include examples by the academic master par excellence Adolphe Bouguereau as well as lesser-known and even anonymous masters of merit. An especially ravishing little painting of an elegant lady reading by Giovanni Boldini attests to the ongoing popularity of high life genre scenes. Once scorned by the champions of Impressionism and Modern art, Adolphe William Bouguereau and Giovanni Boldini have been resuscitated in recent decades.
French Impressionism retains its remarkable popularity with Twenty-First Century audiences; the divided light and color, loaded brush, atmospheric and heightened tonality, as well as the recreational themes of these paintings, continue to enchant modern collectors even as the supplies of this type of art dwindle and prices rise ever higher. Excellent landscapes by Georges Seurat, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Gustave Caillebotte and Henri Le Sidaner grace area collectors’ walls.
Here, too, are an intimate figure study by Berthe Morisot, a magnificent self-portrait by Édouard Manet and little known drawings by Edgar Degas and Vincent van Gogh. There is only one sculpture in the show but it is an exceptionally important one, the charming “Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer” by Degas.
It is to be expected that there is a keen local interest in American painting, especially that of the Nineteenth Century. The exhibition includes works by the Connecticut Colonial portraitist Ralph Earl as well as one of the better likenesses of the father of the country, George Washington, by the talented Rembrandt Peale. More plentiful are the landscapes. A fine image of “Newbury Marshes” by Martin Johnson Heade is a classic Luminist landscape, and a work by Alfred Thompson Bricher offers a glimpse of a refreshing and blissfully underpopulated beach scene.
A special strength locally is the work of the Hudson River School painter Jasper Cropsey, whose descendants reside in the area. Also predictably strong are the works of American Impressionists from Greenwich’s own Cos Cob School, Childe Hassam and Elmer MacRae. One of the latest works in the present show and a relatively recent acquisition by the collector is Willard Leroy Metcalf’s “The Violets,” a charmingly memorable picture that proves that alert collectors can still make astute purchases.
As the diversity of the paintings included in the present show attest, and as “Part II” of the exhibition devoted to Modern and Contemporary art will affirm, there is no typical Connecticut or Greenwich collector. The Bruce Museum is immensely grateful to all the collectors participating in these exhibitions for sharing their valuable and rare objects with the public and for permitting the public to temporarily enjoy their uplifting effect.
The Bruce Museum of Arts and Science is at 1 Museum Drive. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10 am to 5 pm, Sunday, 1 to 5 pm. Tours of museum exhibitions held every Friday at 12:30 pm are free with admission. For information, visit www.brucemuseum.org or call 203-869-0376.
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