Ranging in date from a sixth-century Japanese burial jar to a drawing made in 2011 by American artist and naturalist James Prosek, they span the globe and represent a variety of media, from calligraphy and craft to painting, photography, furniture and contemporary design.
Timothy Rub, the museum’s George D. Widener director and chief executive officer, said: “We are deeply indebted to the hundreds of donors who have contributed works and purchase funds in recent years. The remarkable generosity of these civic-minded individuals inspires us, as our collections are the lifeblood of this institution. A number of these works were given in memory of the museum’s late director Anne d’Harnoncourt (1943-2008), and the exhibition will occasion the launch of the Anne d’Harnoncourt Society, dedicated to recognizing donors who support the growth of the collections.”
Alice Beamesderfer, deputy director for collections and programs at the museum and organizing curator of the exhibition, noted: “We could not possibly show all of our wonderful recent acquisitions—there have been more than 8,500 during the past five years—in a single exhibition, but this does enable us to highlight the remarkable breadth and variety of what we have collected. We also plan to place special labels throughout the permanent collection galleries to identify other recent acquisitions.”
The exhibition will illustrate the diversity of the museum’s collecting, and also help visitors understand why and how it collects. In many cases, new acquisitions have built upon the museum’s existing strengths. The Fishermen’s Village at L’Estaque, painted by the French post-Impressionist painter Paul Cézanne around 1870, is the artist’s earliest painting to enter the collection. A promised gift of trustee Barbara B. Aronson and her husband Theodore, this work enables the museum to present the full arc of the pioneering modernist’s career. Monet’s Path on the Island of Saint Martin, Vétheuil (1881) is the first work in the collection from the three-year period during which the artist lived and worked in Vétheuil, a small village on the Seine River northwest of Paris. This gift of Chara C. and the late John Haas reflects the artist’s development at a key moment.
On display are the first works to enter the collection by a number of artists, including Anna Mary Robertson (Grandma Moses). A gift of the Kallir Family Collection, her winter landscape The Departure, completed when the artist was 91, complements the museum’s growing collection of works by self-taught artists. Funds raised from a group of donors recently enabled the museum to acquire its first painting by the leading 18th-century Puerto Rican painter José Campeche, whose La Divina Pastora (The Divine Shepherdess), completed in the late 1700s, is a prominent addition to the museum’s notable holdings of Latin American art.
The fine self-portrait painted in 1840 by Rembrandt Peale is part of the McNeil Americana Collection, comprising more than 1,000 works donated to the museum by the late Robert L. McNeil Jr., that range from extensive holdings of presidential china to exceptional examples of early American furniture, miniatures, and masterpieces in painting. A selection of photographs by Paul Strand will also be on display.
A substantial number of works by African American artists have also been added to the collection. Among them are the painting Birds in Flight (1927) by Aaron Douglas, a major figure of the Harlem Renaissance, as well as a printed triptych by John Biggers, a hat by the fashion designer Patrick Kelly, and works by Charles White, Kara Walker and James VanDerZee.
“The museum’s collection has always been especially strong in works that were created in and around Philadelphia,” said Beamesderfer, “and recent acquisitions continue to reflect that tradition.” Among the Philadelphia artists represented in the exhibition are Charles Willson Peale and his descendants, Sidney Goodman, Edna Andrade, Sarah McEneaney and Zoe Strauss.
A camera obscura photograph showing the museum and one of its paintings by Giorgio de Chirico was given by the Cuban-born artist Abelardo Morell and bears testimony to his creative collaboration with the Museum’s staff when he visited Philadelphia in 2005. Another notable addition is a blue silk skirt that provides a wonderful and elegant footnote to the museum’s renowned holdings by Henri Matisse. It was created in 1937 by Lydia Delectorskaya, the model who wears it in Matisse’s famous painting, Woman in Blue, which has been in the museum’s collection for several decades. When the widow of Matisse’s grandson found the costume in her attic, she gave it to the museum so that the painting and skirt would be kept together.
“First Look: Collecting for Philadelphia” is organized by Alice Beamesderfer and Naina Saligram, exhibition assistant in the Department of European Painting before 1900. The exhibition is generously supported by the Robert Montgomery Scott Fund for Exhibitions and the Pew Charitable Trusts.
Exhibition Hours: Tuesday – Sunday: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Wednesday and Friday: 10:10 a.m. – 8:45 p.m.
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