REMARKABLE MEN AND WOMEN & THEIR REMARKABLE ART COLLECTIONS

Peggy Guggenheim, pictured above in her personal gondola with two of her beloved Lhasa Apsos canine companions, stands in stark contrast to the collectors of today, many of whom buy for portfolios and not for the love of art, and whose private museums and art galleries are not places of discovery, but stand as temples to the gods of wealth and status. Ms Guggenheim is just one of 8 individualistic collectors Inscape will illuminate during this Spring course lasting 8 weeks. Each has a unique background story but uniting them is a life of discriminating vision, a passion for art and sufficient money to satisfy both.

Their interests range widely from Old Masters like Titian to Modern Masters like Sargent and Matisse, via Renaissance furniture and Renoir. The originality of their eyes led in several cases to major support for artists whose work is now accepted as among the most valuable, both financially and aesthetically, in the world. Had it not been for the Davies sisters, UK collections would have lacked some of the most luminous paintings Monet ever produced. Had it not been for such collectors as Leo Stein in Paris and the Cone sisters in Baltimore, Matisse might never have come to public attention. Had it not been for Gertrude Whitney, New York would not have realized the groundbreaking historic significance of American painters Robert Henri and George Bellows. Had it not been for Peggy Guggenheim, Jackson Pollock might never have excited 70 years of spectators as he has done, or triggered a revolution in how and where paintings are made.

Several of the collectors placed attention on precisely how their works were displayed: Duncan Phillips by insisting on removing chronology and geographical arrangement in order to concentrate on aesthetic and other relationships. Albert Barnes displayed some paintings in conjunction with iron hinges and brackets whose shapes echoed those in the paintings.

It is hard to know which is more remarkable, the characters of these collectors or their collections. During this short course, we explore both.

Isabella Stewart Gardner, friend of Sargent and Whistler, and, late in their lives, Edith Wharton and Henry James, was notorious for appearing at a very formal Boston Symphony Orchestra concert in a headband decorated with the legend ‘Oh, you Red Sox’. A member from birth of genteel ‘Old New York” society she married into a prominent family, the Gardners of Boston. A quick-witted multi-lingual engaging conversationalist who preferred Paris-made fashion, she was snubbed by a Boston society still ruled by descendants of the Puritan fathers. Unperturbed, she was drawn to the rich intellectual life of Boston. Regularly attending lectures at Harvard University, she became an unofficial student of Charles Eliot Norton, Harvard’s first professor of art history, and through him met young Bernard Berenson who became her chief art advisor helping her acquire many masterpieces in her collection. She formed one of the most valuable and unusually displayed collections of her time, comprising more than 7500 paintings, sculptures, furniture, textiles, silver, ceramics, 1500 rare books, and 7000 archival objects-from ancient Rome, Medieval Europe, Renaissance Italy, Asia, the Islamic world and 19th-century France and America, all housed in a Venetian palazzo in Boston.
Gwendoline and Margaret Davies were the granddaughters of David Davies of Llandinam, a self-made man whose fortune was derived from coal, railways and the docks. Their upbringing as strict Calvinistic Methodists in rural Wales instilled in them a dislike of ostentation, a belief in effectual will, and ultimately, a deep sense of social responsibility. These factors would come to inform the unique character of their art collection. They were major benefactors of charities and cultural institutions in Wales. Although they had inherited no tradition of art appreciation, from 1908 onwards the two sisters became avid art collectors guided by their advisors Hugh Blaker, who was the Curator of the Holburne Museum in Bath and brother to their governess, and John Witcombe, Curator of the Victoria Art Gallery in Bath. The sisters initially favoured artists such as Turner, Corot and Millet. Blaker encouraged them to purchase works by Daumier, Carrière, Monet and Rodin. By 1924 they had built up the largest and most important collection of French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works in the country.
Over a period of thirty years, brilliant and buxom sisters, Claribel and Etta Cone, amassed one of the most acclaimed collections of twentieth-century French art in America. Physician pathologist Dr.Claribel and pianist Etta were two halves of an idiosyncratic team – Claribel bold and assertive and Etta reflective and sensitive – who used the textile fortunes of their German Jewish immigrant family to seek out works that inspired and pleased them, regardless of public opinion and without a background in art. The Cone sisters were friends of Parisian literary figures including Gertrude Stein at whose home they met Picasso and Matisse. The relationship the Cone sisters developed with Matisse over the years was so close he referred to them as “my two Baltimore ladies.” Works by Henri Matisse, Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso and other then-undiscovered artists covered the walls of their side by side apartments in Bolton Hill, Baltimore, Maryland. Etta, the longer surviving sister, bequeathed over 3,000 pieces to the Baltimore Museum of Art. Today, the Cone Collection is a vital part of the BMA and of Baltimore’s identity.
Duncan Phillips was a man ahead of his times as evidenced in his early passion and eye for collecting American and European works of art, and in his unique arrangement of them as a collection. “I avoid the usual period rooms—the chronological sequence . . . My arrangements are for the purpose of contrast and analogy. I bring together congenial spirits among the artists from different parts of the world and from different periods of time.” His mother was Eliza Laughlin Phillips, daughter of a banker and co-founder of Jones and Laughlin Steel Company. Duncan and his older brother convinced their parents in 1916 to set aside $10,000 annually to allow them to assemble a collection of contemporary American painting for the family. After amassing more than 237 works of art, the family home, near DC’s Dupont Circle, opened to the public in 1921 as the capital’s smallest museum of modern master works, the Phillips Collection. The collection includes brilliant examples by American and European artists, reflecting Duncan Phillips’s pioneering idea of creating a museum in the nation’s capital where one could encounter the art of the past and the present on equal terms.
Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s middle name was so well known that when she first exhibited her work as a sculptor she had to adopt a nom-de-plume in case she was not taken seriously as an artist. She went on, in the teeth of family disapproval, to become one of the most distinguished American sculptors and collectors of the 20c. She became a supporter of under-represented American artists, housing and feeding them and inviting them to parties on Long Island where there were ‘sunken pools and gorgeous white peacocks as line decorations spreading into the garden’. The work of these once little-known artists such as George Bellows, Thomas Hart Benton, Robert Henri and Charles Sheeler went to form the core of the ground-breaking Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.
Having amassed a vast fortune through his pharmaceutical company, Barnes became a philanthropic art collector who built the world famous Barnes Foundation. The Foundation, which houses one of the most impressive collections of modern art in the United States, came with a charter to promote “the advancement of education and the appreciation of the fine arts” for all sections of American society. When his collection was exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy in 1923 it was seen as “America’s $6,000,000 Shrine For All the Craziest ‘Art’ Barnes brought together many of the world’s greatest masterpieces including works by European titans- Renoir, Cézanne, Matisse, Picassoand Modigliani. Not withstanding a richly-deserved reputation as a fractious and obstinate individual, Barnes was a strong advocate of progressive education and social equality and worked closely with African American communities, championing both African and art by African-Americans artists. The Barnes Foundation currently displays paintings and sculptures alongside African masks, native American jewellery, Greek antiquities, and pieces of decorative metalwork.
Less well-known now than his sister Gertrude, perhaps because he was opposed to the Cubism she championed, Leo Stein was arguably the more important collector. It was he who found the home for himself and Gertrude at Rue de Fleurus which was later to become renowned throughout the art world. It was he who first visited the avant-garde Salon D’Automne in 1903, where Gertrude followed him later, and he who went to Vollard’s chaotic gallery and discovered the work of Cezanne. Vollard remarked of the Steins that they were his only clients who collected paintings “not because they were rich, but despite the fact that they weren’t.” It was Leo who encapsulated the battle of Cezanne with his art in superbly eloquent language “there is always this remorseless intensity, this endless unending gripping of the form, the unceasing effort to force it to reveal its absolute self-existing quality of mass….Every canvas is a battlefield and victory an unattainable ideal’. Leo discovered Picasso in his Rose period, and Gertrude admired his proto-cubist works. Later the Steins won a reputation as the only collectors of their time who had collected both Picasso and Matisse, before falling out in 1914 in their own acrimonious war.
Peggy Guggenheim spent many of her early years in Europe, where she claimed to have slept with 1000 men. When she was asked how many husbands she had had, she asked ‘you mean my own, or other people’s’? She mixed her love of art with her love of artists, such as Yves Tanguy, Roland Penrose and Max Ernst, and knew Marcel Duchamp and Constantin Brancusi. On the outbreak of war she moved to Paris and spent the entire budget for her collection on 10 Picassos, 40 Ernsts, eight Mirós, four Magrittes, four Ferrens, three Man Rays, three Dalís, one Klee, and one Chagall, among others. She returned to New York in the summer of 1941 where she opened The Art of This Century gallery. Her passion for the new art of the time was instrumental in advancing the careers of several important modern artists including the American painters Jackson Pollock and William Congdon, the Austrian surrealist Wolfgang Paalen, the sound poet Ada Verdun Howell and the German painter Max Ernst, whom she married in December 1941. Following World War II – and her 1946 divorce from Max Ernst – she closed The Art of This Century Gallery, and returned to Europe. In 1948, she was invited to exhibit her collection in the disused Greek Pavilion of the Venice Biennale and in 1949 established herself in the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni (‘unfinished palazzo of the lions’) on the Grand Canal where her collection can be seen, and where her ashes, and those of her 14 beloved dogs, are buried.

Booking Information:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

This online course will be presented by Nicholas Friend, Founding Director of Inscape. It begins on Tuesday 26 April 2022 at 11 am, repeating on Thursdays at 4 pm. It  ends on Thursday 16 June 2022. 

You may choose to attend all Tuesdays or all Thursdays, or any mixture of these, subject to availability. You may also choose to attend individual sessions. If you would like to attend but cannot manage a particular date, then be assured we will be sending recordings of sessions to all participants. Each session meets from 20 minutes before the advertised time of the lecture, and each lecture lasts roughly one hour, with around 15 minutes discussion.

Cost:  £360 members or £395 non-members for the course of 8 sessions or £45 members or £55 non-members per individual session. All sessions are limited to 21 participants to permit discussion.

Due to the coronavirus cheques are not a viable option at this time. Instead, please make your payment to Friend&Friend Ltd by bank transfer to our account with Metrobank, bank sort code 23-05-80, account number 13291721 or via PayPal to nicholas@inscapetours.co.uk, or credit/debit card by phone to Henrietta on 07940 71939. She is available Tuesdays 10-12 and 2-4 pm or Thursdays 10-12 and 2-4 pm.

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