In olden and golden
days, some serious collectors had encyclopedic tastes and ambitions,
but those days are long gone in part because the availability
of really desirable objects has dwindled and/or become prohibitively
expensive for most, and in part because few would attempt the
daunting task of being a connoisseur in many, to say nothing of
Those precious days, as Walter Huston might sigh, last belonged
to the "robber barons" and those who can afford to indulge
Sir Joseph Duveen, the art dealer, and Bernard Berenson, the art
expert, an era in which flourished such collectors as J. P. Morgan,
Henry Clay Frick, Benjamin Altman, Jules Bache, Samuel Kress,
Horace Havemeyer and Robert Lehman in New York, Andrew Mellon
and Duncan Phillips in Washington, and George Widener and John
G. Johnson in Philadelphia, Henry Walters in Baltimore, Isabella
Stewart Gardner in Boston and John Paul Getty in Los Angeles,
just to mention the more prominent. (There were major collectors
as well in Chicago, Cleveland, Minneapolis, Pasadena, Toledo and
Grenville Lindall Winthrop (1864-1943) deserves membership in
the pantheon of American Grand Acquisitors for his fantastic "collector's
eye" that enabled him to acquire a stunning array of masterpieces.
Indeed, With the exception of Henry Clay Frick and Andrew Mellon,
Winthrop probably had a higher "batting average" in
terms of getting masterpieces than any other American as witnessed
by the overwhelming exhibition entitled "A Private Passion,"
that shows part of bequest to the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University
of his 19th Century paintings and drawings.
Some collectors may have a knock-out Rubens, or a drop-dead Schiele,
or a memorable Monet, or a dazzling Kirchner, or a sensational
Cézanne, or a mind-blowing Whistler, or a great Botticelli,
but they are unlikely to significant and very important holdings
in depth of several great masters.
Winthrop's 19th Century collection includes such holdings of the
works of Ingres, Gustave Moreau, William Blake, Edward Burne-Jones,
Dante Gabriel Rosetti, and Winslow Homer. It also includes masterworks
by Renoir, Daumier, Van Gogh, Odile Redon, George Pierre Seurat,
George Frederick Watts and Charles Bird King.
In 1943, Winthrop gave his entire art collection, comprising about
4,000 objects, to Harvard University and its museums. In 1938,
in response to a request that he give it to a museum in Washington,
he wrote that:
"I admit that more people of the 'general public' will visit
Washington than Cambridge, but I am not so much interested in
the general public as I am in the Younger Generation whom I want
to teach in their impressionable years and to prove to them that
true art is founded on traditions and is not the product of any
one country or century and that Beauty may be found in
all countries and in all periods, provided the eye can be trained
to find it."
In the Directors' Foreword in the exhibition's large catalogue
(which is available softcover for $50 from the bookstore of the
Metropolitan Museum of Art), Marjorie B. Cohn, acting director
of the Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, Massachusetts,
Francine Mariani-Ducray, president, Direction des Musées
de France, Philippe de Montebello, director of the Metropolitan
Museum, Vincent Pomarède, director of the Musée
des Beaux-Arts, Lyon, and Charles Saumarez Smith, director of
the National Gallery, London, wrote that while Winthrop's gife,
"unparalleled in Harvard's history, would instantly make
the Fogg Museum a place of international importance to scholars
and lovers of art" it "would also make the Winthrop
collection one of the least familiar to the general public."
"Winthrop's modesty was such that few visitors of Harvard's
Art Museums today are aware that its incomparable collection of
early Chinese jades and archaic bronzes, Buddhist sculpture, and
extraordinary holdings of nineteenth-century French and Pre-Raphaelite
masters are due, in large part, to his munificence," the
directors continued. "Winthrop's pursuits brought Neolithic
Chinese jades and Mesoamerican sculpture together with work by
August Rodin and Aristide Maillol, Paul Manship and Eric Gill.
His active eye led him to early Italian panel painting and to
drawings of then-modern masters, such as Henri Matisse and George
Bellows. On the other hand, his collection is not just an assemblage
of a broad spectrum of extraordinary objects. In the field of
nineteenth-century Western painting, it is unique: it is the only
collection, anywhere, to represent, at a uniformly high level
of quality, the complete history of American, British and French
painting and drawing. Harvard has always respected Winthrop's
wish that his collection be available for study at the university.
Therefore, for more than sixty years it has not loaned a single
object from his bequest to any exhibition, no matter how important.
However, an impending closing of the museum for architectural
renovation created a new opportunity."
Winthrop was the second
son in "the ninth generation of an unbroken line of Winthrop
males descending from two colonial governors: John Winthrop of
the Massachusetts Bay Colony and his son John Jr. of Connecticut,"
wrote Stephan Wolohojian in his catalogue essay entitled "A
Private Passion" " His father, Robert Winthrop,"
Mr. Wolohojian continued, "was initially a partner in the
banking firm of Drexel and Company, but when Anthony Drexel decided
on a merger with J. Pierpont Morgan in 1871, Robert started a
private banking company under his own name....the Winthrop's financial
position was in fact owed to Grenville's mother, Kate Taylor Winthrop,
daughter of Moses Taylor, one of New York's wealthiest businessmen
and president of City Bank....Grenville's childhood could have
come out straight out of an Edith Wharton novel. Wharton, incidentally
one of his mother's close friends, would often stop by their somber
new house for tea, in the company of Sara Delano Roosevelt....Like
most of his kin, Winthrop went to Harvard....He matriculated in
a class that included the philosopher George Santayana and two
classmates who would also become notable collectors: Charles Loeser
and William Randolph Hearst....In his last semester at Harvard,
Winthrop enrolled in [Charles Elliot] Norton's class on Venetian
art. Later that year Bernard Berenson took his first course with
the legendary teacher....After college, Winthrop stayed at Cambridge
to study law. With his degree to practice in hand he returned
to New york, eventually setting up a partnership with James B.
Ludlow and Frederick Phillips. In 1892, at age twenty-eight, he
married Mary Talmadge Trevor....He retired completely in 1896,...and
relied on siblings and their heirs to manage his affairs for the
rest of his life....Before the turn of the century, most likely
while setting up house in New York, Winthrop gathered an unremarkably
eclectic collection, typical of patrician tastes of the period:
paintings by Narcisse-Virgile Diza de la Peña, the odd
pair of eighteenth-century paintings he purchased as the work
of Nicholas Lancret, canvases attributed to Camille Corot and
Pierre Mignard, and other similar works. Through their renewed
association, Berenson seems to have convinced, or as he would
prefer to have his clients think, advised Winthrop to acquire
Italian paintings....over the course of about two decades Winthrop...purchased
about a dozen paintings from Berenson....Winthrop also became
an avid collector of prints, thanks in part to his association
with his former Harvard classmate Francis Bullard, who lived a
short walk from Winthrop's large Lenox estate. In 1902 Winthrop
bought the Elms in Lenox, a staid summer colony in the Berkshires,
in western Massachusetts, where his mother and other members of
patroon society also had properties. In these bucolic hills Winthrop
enlisted the help of Carrere and Hastings...to transform a late
Victorian fieldstone house into an overscale stone 'cottage'...Ever
conscious of his ancestral roots, Winthrop renamed the property
Groton Place, after the English village of his forebears."
In 1914, Winthrop met Martin
Birnbaum who would become his trusted agent. "Birnbaum, an
immensely intriguing figure," Mr. Wolohojian wrote, "could
as easily have been a secret agent as a dealer in the works of
art. His oldest friend, the write Upton Sinclair (who modeled
Lanny, in his Lanny Budd series, after him), recalled how after
Birnbaum had left a Hollywood dinner at which Charlie Chaplin
was present, Chaplin and the host, taken by Birnbaum's mysterious
charm, were convinced he was a German spy. A lawyer by training,
an art dealer by vocation, but a violinist at heart, was as colorful
as Winthrop was drab....Birnbaum credits himself with having been
the first in America to mount shows on Oskar Kokoschka, Lyonel
Feininger, Paul Klee, James Ensor, Edvard Munch, Paul Manship
and many other artists....A translator of the poetry of Paul Verlaine,
a failed playwright, a trained lawyer, but more remarkably a violinist
of considerable talent - to say that Birnbaum was an eclectic
figure is not to do him full justice....When Birnbaum first met
Winthrop in 1914, he was head of the New York branch of the Berlin
Photographic Company, a publisher of photographs and art books,
which had a gallery space where Birnbaum was able to mount his
own exhibits....Ernst Barlach, Beardsley, Charles Conder, John
Marin, and John Sloan were some of the artists he presented. Birnbaum
also distinguished himself as a critic. Over the years he published
many volumes of essays on topics as diverse as Oscar Wilde, John
Singer Sargent, and contemporary German art. Before World War
I, Birnbaum also began an intimate association with Charles Ricketts
and Charles Shannon, the renowned artist-aesthetics who, at the
time, were living in their legendary house on the property of
the great English collector Sir Edmund Davis...The lifelong friendship
established with these artist-connoisseurs spliced Birnbaum into
the central line of British artistic movements from the Pre-Raphaelites
to the Aesthetic Movement and their followers....Winthrop's relationship
with Birnbaum did not develop fully until after 1916, when Birnbaum
joined the firm of Scott and Fowles, after Fowles went down on
the Lusitania. Birnbaum encouraged the stodgy white-glove company...to
branch out and show more modern artists such as Edouard Manet,
Whistler, Sargent, Winslow Homer, Ingres and Edgar Degas....There
were no gardens at Groton Place. Instead, the subtle nuances of
the carefully chosen clusters of foliage, whispering exotic chords
as the wind blew chimes hidden within them,were pierced by legions
of elegantly plumed birds - according to some accounts, numbering
more than five hundred. Peacocks and pheasants - 'living jewels,'
Winthrop called them - provided a movable pageant of color as
they roamed about the property as if Winthrop had taken the opulent
adornments of an Aesthetic Movement interior outdoors...."
Mr. Wolohojian wrote, "developed into a quirky compound.
Over the years Winthrop...added an oriental garden, a small 'museum'
of natural history, and an acquarium, which a surviving photograph
shows looking disconcertingly like Homer's Mink Pond...,
a gem he would add to his collection in later years."
In 1924, both of Winthrop's
daughters eloped: Emily married her chauffeur, and Kate married
her father's electrician. Around this time, Winthrop moved from
his townhouse on East 37th Street to a new double-wide Georgian-style
house at 15 East 81st Street.
While Birnbaum sought out
and acquired many of Winthrop's finest works, Winthrop "made
some of his most impressive purchases independently," Mr.
Wolohojian wrote, added that "He acquired Jean-Baptiste-Siméon
Chardin's dazzling late pastel Portrait of a Man...., and
even in the final year of his life, surely knowing that he would
never see it installed at home, he purchased Canaletto's Piazza
San Marco, Venice...Through Wildenstein and Company in New
York, he made some of his most remarkable acquisitions in the
area of his and Birnbaum's focused interest. Among the works on
this roster are Pierre-August Renoir's Spring Bouquet...,
Daumier's Scapin..., Claude Monet's Road toward the
Farm Saint-Siméon, Honfleur..., Vincent Van Gogh's
Blue Cart..., and Ingres's Odalisque with the Slave,
as well as his powerful late Self-Portrait...."
For a connoisseur
what could be better than a painting of a connoisseur by Honoré
Daumier (1808-1879). Daumier is known as one of the great caricaturists
in art history but his oil paintings are not as fully appreciated
despite their fine compositions and wonderful painterliness. "The
Print Amateur" is an excellent oil on wood panel that measures
13 by 9 3/8 inches and is known in two versions, this one and,
according to the catalogue, "a later, more carefully finished
work now in the Dallas Museum of Art." "Closely connected
with these is a variant at one time owned by Camille Corot, now
in a private collection," the catalogue entry by Michael
Patazzi noted, adding that "Little attention has been paid
to the images paintings, drawings, or prints that Daumier incorporated
into his own work. With rare exceptions these are variations on
his own compositions."
of the Camargue (Portrait of Patience Escalier)" is a powerful
portrait drawing in brown ink by Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)
that is remarkable for its use of spikes, dots, plumes, arabesques
and brutal hatching, according to Harry Cooper's catalogue entry
on this work. Not pretty but extremely interesting, this is a
true connoisseur's work. This superb drawing is a study for an
oil painting known as "Portrait of a Peasant (Patience Escalier)"
in the collection of the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California.
The catalogue entry notes that "with its vigorous and inventive
use of the reed pen, it has been recognized as one of the triumphs
of van Gogh's graphic art." The brown ink over graphite on
white wove paper measures 19 ½ by 15 inches and was executed
in 1888. "The Winthrop drawing enacts a conflation not so
much of van Gogh's features with Escalier's as of the two heroic
types that informed all of the artist's work of this period: the
French peasant and the Japanese monk. If the content of the Winthrop
drawing hints at the enthusiasm for Japan that overtook van Gogh
in Arles, the form declares it. What is original in van Gogh's
technique, and demonstrated in the Winthrop drawing perhaps better
than any other, is the variety of marks in simultaneous, sometimes
dissonant play. This play reaches its climax in Escalier's cheeks,
whose sunburned color and furrowed structure, clearly visible
in the Norton Simon painting, van Gogh transcribed in the drawing
by jamming together all the kinds of marks present in the rest
of the sheet. One might say that the cheeks in the drawing are
hectic in both senses of the word 'red, flushed' at the level
of depictionor transcription, and 'filled with excitement or confusion'
at the level of pure form," Mr. Cooper observed adding that
the color sequences that hold together his paintings are paralleled
in the drawings by complex networks of contrasts and textures.
"One might push this thesis farther still," he continued,
"seeing the different combinations of marks in the Winthrop
drawing as van Gogh's attempt to convey to Theo [his brother],
and by extension to every viewer, the particular colors of the
painting, or at least the fact that what distinguishes colors
from one another is their particular vibration. This notion of
vivid color and active mark as parallel kinds of vibration puts
one in mind of Fauvism, and with good reason. One of several van
Gogh drawings that Henri Matisse acquired around the turn of the
century was a much smaller ink drawing of Escalier (private collection,
Switzerland), a rather whimsical version of the second painting,
which van Gogh probably enclosed in a letter (now lost) to Emile
Bernard on September 5, 1888. It is the last of four extant images
of Escalier by van Gogh. Through Matise, the aftershocks of van
Gogh's encounter with Escalier were felt throughout the art of
the twentieth century."
The cover illustration of the exhibition's catalogue is "Raphael
and the Fornarina," an 1814 oil on canvas by Dominique Ingres
that measures 25 ½ by 21 inches.
"Raphael and the Fornarina is a subject and a composition
to which Ingres kept returning for most of his life, resulting
in five successive painted versions and a finished and signed
drawing, not to mention numerous preparatory studies. Raphael
of the Fornarina is Ingres's ars pingendi, the pictorial
expression of his theory of art," wrote Henri Zerner in his
catalogue essay on this work.
"Raphael had always been widely considered the ultimate painter.
Far from turning against him, the early Romantic period developed
a new kind of veneration, of his life as well as his work. The
ground had been prepared by his first biographer, Giorgio Vasari,
who reports Raphael's deep attachment to an unnamed woman and
claims the painter's premature death resulted from excessive lovemaking.
Ingres's painting is replete with pictorial references. The heads
in particular are subtly constructed out of a variety of Raphaelesque
or pseudo-Raphaelesque models. It would be tempting to understand
the painting as an allegory of how art sublimates desire into
religious spirituality. But what we know of Ingres's concerns
and beliefs, as well as the strangeness and unconventionality
of the painting, forces us to understand it as a more troubling
statement. While Ingres was Catholic out of tradition and habit,
his true devotion was to art and he literally worshipped Raphael
as a superior being of divine essence, a kind of godhead or prophet
of an aesthetic religion in which sensuality and spirituality
were inseparable," Mr. Zerner argued.
Ingres's odalisques are some of the most sensuous paintings in
the most beautiful work in this exhibition is "The Bather,"
a watercolor and white gouache over graphite on white wove paper
by Dominique Ingres. The extremely exquisite work is almost an
identical replica at reduced scale of La Baigneuse, an
1808 oil painting in the collection at the Louvre that was often
called La Baigneuse Valpinçon, but titled Etude
when it was first exhibited at the Salon of 1808. In his catalogue
entry on this work, Gary Tinterow provides the following commentary:
"The present watercolor so accurately reproduces the Valinçon
bather that one could suspect that Ingres relied on some sort
of mechanical aid in its creation. There is a tracing at the Musée
Ingres, Montauban, that may have been taken from this work (all
internal measurements are identical). That tracing may have served
the artist in the creation of the related work of 1826 now at
the Phillips collection, as well as the 1864 version now at the
Musée Bonnat in Bayonne. The first record of the Winthrop
watercolor seems to be the recollection of Ingres's student Amaury-Duval.
He recalled seeing in 1833 on the walls of his master's apartment
in the Institute de France 'a small repetition of the odalisque
seen from the back, seated on the corner of a bed the most beautiful
of his odalisques and to my surprise, the engraving of van Loo's
Woman Climbing Into Bed [Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyon]."
(Although the pose is different, the van Loo has a very similar
erotic effect.) The Winthrop Bather is the only known work
that fits this description. The date of this work remains in question.
Cohn and Siegfried make a strong case for 1808, citing the high
quality and clarity of execution as well as a possible motivation,
the creation of a record for his own enjoyment of a work reluctantly
sent to Paris to satisfy a requirement of his scholarship at the
French Academy in Rome. Nevertheless, Ingres was extremely parsimonious
in any expenditure of time and effort and almost never made finished
works for himself. The portraits he made of his friends in Rome
are markedly less finished than commissioned works, and this ravishing
watercolor has all the hallmarks of a commissioned work."
While "The Bather" is palpably and alluringly full of
mystery, "Odalisque with a Slave," shown at the top
of this article, has a much different temperament. The reclining
woman faces the viewer while a female slave plays a lute while
sitting at her feet and a eunuch stands in the background of a
decidedly Middle Eastern-style interior. The colors are much warmer
than the cool tones of "The Bather" and while this work
is more explicitly exotic, it is not as erotic as the solitary
"Bather." Gary Tinterow notes in his catalogue entry
for this work that Ingres traced this work to "create a variant
with a landscape background, largely painted by Paul Flandrin,
for the king of Bavaria (Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore),"
adding that "one of Ingres's pupils in Rome, J.-Ch. Thévenin,
executed an elaborate grisaille copy of thepicture for an unrealized
engraving. Thévenin's drawing was so esteemed that it was
the only replica not by the master to be included in Ingres's
1867 posthumous retrospective. This may be the grisaille now in
the Thaw collection at the Morgan Library, New York, where it
is attributed to Ingres."
Other major works by Ingres in this exhibition include a wonderful
1859 self-portrait, two exceptional 1833 studies for "The
Martydom of Saint Symphorien," and "The Golden Age,
an 1862 arched painting that is a study for his large oil on plaster
at the Chateau de Dampierre, Yvelines. Gary Tinterow noted in
the catalogue that Ingres "made some five hundred drawings
of the individual figures," adding that "Seeking to
rival Raphael, Ingres had decided to executive the murals in oil
on plaster, a medium akin to fresco, with which he was not familiar.
It required a quick and decisive technique, with almost no possibility
of reworking, and was vastly different from his customary oil-on-canvas
techniques, which involved laying in, scraping down, revising,
and correcting. He made great progress in the summers of 1843
and 1844, but when the duc de Luynes saw The Golden Age for the
first time at the end of Ingres's stay during the latter year,
he was shocked by both the nudity and the profusion of figures
and by the slow rate of completion. Work progressed further, but
the campaign of 1847 would be the last for, demoralized by the
1848 revolution and the death of his beloved wife in 1849, he
never completed the project. Much later, in 1862, Ingres preserved
the fruits of his labor in this small but exquisite reduction.
It was made at a time when the artist, happily remarried, was
interested in organizing his artistic legacy. The composition
was not entirely new, but instead based on a tracing, now in Lyon
(Musée des Beaux-Arts), that shows all of the figures of
the Dampierre mural nude, though at the scale of the Winthrop
An artist who shared Ingres's love of the female body but whose
style was more loose and colorful and fantastic was Gustave Moreau
collection has several wonderful Moreaus including "The Apparition,"
an oil on canvas that measures 21 3/8 by 17 ½ inches and
was executed in 1877.
"The Apparition" is a medium-size variation on a theme
treated by Moreau in a watercolor that was included in the Salon
of 1876. "The seated musician," the catalogue entry
noted, "has disappeared, and a black panther has been added
at Salome's feet. Herod and Herodias, on the left, and the executioner
on the right, are rapidly sketched in. The architecture and the
lighting are different, though certain details are used, such
as the capitals inspired by the Alhambra in Grenada, Spain, and
the haloed statue in the center, which, barely visible in the
watercolor, in the painting stands out against a bright background.Particularly
forceful is the evocation of temple caves in India, especially
those at Elephanta, photographs of which he had studied at the
Palais de l'Industrie in 1873. Salome's attitude is the same as
that in the watercolor. She is slightly less covered in jewelsThe
head of John the Baptist appears to be more tinged with blood
than in other versions, surrounded by an enormous luminous halo,
similar to the one in the large painting The Apparition,
which the artist kept in his studio. Hence the painting is far
from simply a minature of one or another version; it has its own
originality, its particular, glowing-red sumptuousness. The lugubrious
iconography corresponds to the general idea of decadence that
haunted the artist after the Franco-Prussian War and its aftermath,
the Commune." (See The City Review article on a major Moreau exhibition.)
(1840-1916) has a very colorful painterly style that is as lush
as Moreau's though one that is more ephemeral. "Saint Sebastian"
is an unusual but very striking Redon. "In its technique
and style, this watercolor is characteristic of many works on
paper created by Odilon Redon during the last decade of his life.
Using a light tought with brilliant colors and leaving the support
in reserve, the artist combined broad strokes with fine lines
and hatching similar to a pen drawing, consistent with the advice
he once received from Corot: 'Next to an uncertainty, place a
certainty,'" the catalogue entry for this work by Dario Gamboni,
noted. "Redon," he continued, "devoted about fifteen
works, executed in watercolor, pen and wash, pastel, or oil, to
the martyrdom of Saint Sebastian. Over its long pictorial history,
this theme was favored by, among others, Gustave Moreau, the inspiration
of Redon's youth (Redon would critically assess that artist''
works at the opening of the Moreau museum in 1900). On May 22,
1911, Gabriele D'Annunzio's drama The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian
was performed at the Théatre du Châtelet, with music
by Claude Debussy and sets by Léon Bakst; Redon had been
in contact with Debussy since 1893 and Diaghilev reportedly asked
Redon to design the sets for Debussy's ballet, Afternoon of
a Faun, which premiered at the Théatre du Châtelet
in 1912. The archbishop of Paris issued an interdict of D'Annunzio's
'mystery play' because the title role was given to a woman, Ida
Rubenstein. The indeterminate gender of the saint in Redon's work
may reflect the casting choice. The watercolor in the Winthrop
collection shows the saint in a curiously restful pose that further
distinguishes him from the usual iconography. The pose is remarkable
for its two-dimensional and abstract character. The lack of depth
is indicated by the trajectory of the arrows, which seem to be
coming from every direction, and by the outline surrounding the
composition. Lacking any determinate iconographic or iconic identity,
the outline motif is richly suggestive. It may bring to mind the
mandorla in medieval Christian art and the auras portrayed by
the theosophists of Redon's time. But it is especially reminiscent
of the organic world and evokes by turns a cell, a microscopic
animal, an egg, a shell, or even a uterus. In any case, Redon
introduces a contradiction by juxtaposing the protective enclosure
and the body exposed to the arrow attack. The red of the wounds,
however, reappears in the kidney-shaped outline. The martyrdom,
metaphorical or symbolic rather than historical or religious,
thus appears to be a conception or a birth, which the saint's
closed eyes place on an internal and spiritual plane. That interpretation
of the torment, luminous and peaceful at least in appearance,
echoes a text written more than thirty years earlier, in which
Redon sought to make sense of the isolation he felt as a man and
as an artist: 'He who suffers is he who rises up. Strike. Always
strike. The wound is fertile.'"
Redon are operatic and magical artists and Winthrop obviously
found them almost as fascinating William Blake (1757-1827), the
English mystic. Winthrop's collection of Blakes is very substantial.
John Linnell (1792-1882) commissioned a set of 21 images of The
Book of Job from Blake in 1821 and nineteen of the images are
in the Winthrop collection. One of the strongest works in this
group is "Thy Sons and Thy Daughters Were Eating and Drinking
Wine," which is number 3 of The Book of Job. The watercolor,
black ink and graphite on cream antique laid paper measures 11
½ by 8 7/8 inches.
The collection includes some works by the French Impressionists.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), for example, is represented
by two very strong works, "Spring Bouquet," and "Portrait
of Victor Chocquet." The former is an extremely lovely oil
on canvas, 42 ¼ by 31 5/8 inches, of flowers that is notable
for its pale blue and pale green palette as opposed to the artist's
more familiar saturated reds. Painted in 1866, the catalogue entry
by Christoper Riopelle notes that "Douglas Cooper has related
it to a letter of spring 1866 in which the artist told a friend,
the painter Jules Le Coeur, that he had discovered la vraie
peinture, true painting. The announcement coincided with Renoir's
adopted a freer, more confident approach to his art, using thinner
paints applied with the brush alone, rather than with the palette
knife he had often employed before this date." This and a
similar floral study were made for Jules Le Coeur's older brother,
Charles, an architect and the artist's "earliest and most
loyal patron," according to Mr. Riopelle. "A photograph
from the early twentieth century shows that the painting did indeed
hang in the family's Paris home. It was set directly into the
boiserie, or wood paneling, of a sitting room furnished
in elegant eighteenth-century style. Flanking it on wall brackets
were Chinese vases not unlike the one depicted in the painting
great Renoir in the Winthrop collection is "Portrait of Victor
Chocquet," an oil on canvas that measures 20 7/8 by 17 1/8
inches and was executed circa 1875.
Renoir was an uneven artist and unfortunately the art market has
been flooded for years with his not terribly well-done, indeed
often clumsy-looking, paintings of women with rosy cheeks in red
backgrounds. Renoir, however, could be a fabulous portrait painter
on occasion as witnessed by this stunning portrait of Victor Guillaume
Chocquet (1821-1891). In the catalogue, Christopher Riopelle provides
the following commentary about Chocquet:
"He was a low-paid customs officer in the Ministry of Finance,
one, moreover, who resisted career advancement if it meant leaving
Paris. Nonetheless, he used what resources he could to assemble
a superb collection of paintings, objects d'art, and fine furniture.
He filled his modest apartment on the rue de Rivoli, overlooking
the Tuileries Gardens, that he shared with his wife, Caroline.
Only late in life did Chocquet enjoy financial ease, when an inheritance
came his wife's way in 1882. At that point, oddly, his passion
for collecting seems to have abated. During the 1860s and 1870s,
however, he haunted dealers' shops, auction houses, and artists'
exhibitions, where he acquired works by the artists who most excited
him. First among them was Eugène Delacroix, whose works
he began to acquire in the 1860s; some twenty-three paintings
and watercolors by the artist were included in the posthumous
auction of Chocquet's estate in 1899. In the mid-1870s, he was
smitten in turn by the works of the young Impressionists and became
one of their most assiduous early champions and collectors. Chocquet
missed the first Impressionist Exhibition of 1874. He did attend
the disastrous sale of their works the following year, although
he did not buy. It was there, however, that he seems to have met
Renoir, and soon thereafter Chocquet commissioned a portrait of
his wife from the artist (Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart). Chocquet
also began to acquire the young painter's works, and by the time
of the second Impressionist exhibition, in 1876, he was in a position
to lend no fewer than six Renoir paintings. Renoir later spoke
in exaggeratedly glowing terms of Chocquet's patronage. He was
'le plus grand collectionneur français depuis les rois,
peut-être du monde depuis les papes (the greatest French
collector since the kings, perhaps in the world since the popes).
Chocquet also became enthusiastic about Paul Cézanne, to
whom Renoir introduced him. Indeed, he was Cézanne's first
real collector, accumulating some thirty-one works. Chocquet identified
Renoir as a follower of Delacroix, the natural inheritor of his
coloristic art, and here Renoir acknowledges the compliment by
including Delacroix's Hercules Rescues Hessione of 1852
into the portrait."
Seurat (1859-1891) moved to Montmartre in 1887-8 at a time when
that Parisian neighborhood's nightlife, aided by the invention
of gaslight, was booming and cabarets and cafés abounded.
In her catalogue entry for "Café-Concert (À
la Gaîté Rochechouart)," Susan Alyson Stein
provides the following commentary:
"In the late 1880s greater and lesser talents, from Toulouse-Lautrec
to Emile Bernard, tacked the subject, which had been given memorable
form in the works of Daumier and Degas and a contemporary edge
by commercial illustrators and poster artists, such as Jules Chéret.
Degas, whose preeminence in the genre had gone unrivaled for nearly
a decade, was prompted around 1885 to rework several of his earlier
black-and-white prints with pastel. These richly inventive prints
exerted a decisive influence on the efforts of younger artists,
not least of all Seurat, who was inspired to produce a formidable
suite of drawings that with their kindred emphasis on dramatic
lighting effects, provocative viewpoints, nuanced graphic touch,
and technical mastery effectively met Degas on his own ground.
Distinctive for their unity of conception and for their high degree
of finish, the eight drawings that Seurat dedicated to the café-concert
represent his most conscientious undertaking as a draftsman. Seurat
featured drawings from this group in four exhibitions. Seurat
made two almost identical versions of À la Gaîté
Rouchechouart: a unique occurrence in his oeuvre, which has
intrigued and puzzled scholars." The other version is in
the collection of the Rhode Island School of Design. Ms. Stein
wrote that the Winthrop drawing is "the more fully resolved"
of the two sheets by virtue of its signature and is provenance.
The conté crayon with white gouache on buff laid paper
measures 12 1/8 by 9 ¼ inches and was executed in 1887-8.
collection is particularly strong in major Pre-Raphaelite works
including five of the six watercolor panels of "The Days
of Creation" by Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898). Executed
between 1875 and 1876, they were, according to the catalogue essay
on the works by Malcolm Warner, "part of the spectacular
array of paintings he showed at the first exhibition in 1877 of
the Grosvenor Gallery in London that "made him famous overnight
and established him as the leading artist of the Aesthetic Movement
in British art."
"Within Burne-Jones's work," Mr. Warner wrote, "the
Days belongs to a family of serial compositions in which
he used figures to represent times; elsewhere the subjects are
the seasons or the hours. Here the addresses the grand narrative
of the creation of the universe, each panel in the series showing
God's acts on one of the days of creation as described in the
first chapter of the Book of Genesis. The days are personified
by angels, whose complicated wings and feathered costumes are
the decorative theme of the series. Much of the extraordinary
beauty of the series lies in the effects of color that Burne-Jones
achieves in his treatment of this dominant feature. The colors
of the feathers seem to defy being named, such is the subtlety
with which they shift and blend the gradual warming of color through
the series suggesting the progress of creation as it becomes more
and more hospitable to mankind. All but one of the angels holds
a glassy sphere in which a stage of creation is represented. The
spheres suggest at once the earth and the universe as a whole;
the divine acts of creation seem to unfold within strange and
indefinable spaces appropriate to the mysteriousness of the vents.
Having presented their spheres their heads marked by a flame of
spiritual energy as they do so the first five angels continue
to appear in the compositions that follow, standing behind or
alongside the successive newcomers to the group. This makes for
an effect of crescendo, like that of a piece of music played first
on a single instrument and then by two together, then three, and
so on. The six sphere-holding angels are joined in the final composition
by the angel of the seventh day, the day of rest, who plays on
a medieval psaltery. Burne-Jones may have been the first since
medieval times to treat the whole sequence in a single work. For
him the paramount good in a work of art lay in its beauty and
in its broad, universal meaning to which drama and emotion, beyond
a dreamy melancholy, were inimical. When Henry James saw The
Days of Creation at the Grosvenor Gallery, he was fascinated
above all by the angels' faces and `that vague, morbid pathos,
that appealing desire for an indefinite object, which seems among
these artists an essential part of the conception of human loveliness.'
Burne-Jones avoided expression because he wanted his figures to
be 'types, symbols, suggestions,' rather than individuals with
whom we might identify. It is typical of the cross-fertilization
that took place between Burne-Jones's activities as a fine artist
on the one hand and a designer on the other that he first developed
the idea of the series under the auspices of the decorative-arts
firm that he had helped found with his friend William Morris.
Its original was a stained-glass window that he designed in 1870
for All Saints Parish Church, Middleton Cheney, Northamptonshire;
the six small Days of Creation lights form the middle tier
of the window, above three much larger lights showing Shahrach,
Meschach, and Abednego. The present series of watercolors, which
follows the basic designs of the Middleton Cheney windows fairly
closely, seems to have been planned in 1872 and executed in 1875-76
over a ten-month period. The idiosyncratic technique Burne-Jones
used in carrying out the work is far removed from that of a typical
British watercolorist of his own or any other period. His object
seems to have been to make watercolor look like anything but itself"
the matte surface recalls fresco or tempera; the small brushstrokes
and crosshatching also recall tempera; the fine weave of the linen
support shows through like canvas through oil paint; and the many
touches of gold and silver (in fact platinum) throughout the panels
would, for most of Burne-Jonese's contemporaries, have suggested
a decorator's work rather than that of the fine artist. The Days
were originally displayed in a frame of Burne-Jones's own design.
Clearly it was important to him that the series should be seen
together and in this setting. Despite the artist's wishes, the
original frame seems to have been destroyed after the watercolors
were acquired by Grenville Winthrop, who reframed them singly
in plain gilt moldings."
The catalogue notes that "The Fourth Day" in the series
is not in the exhibition because it had been stolen from a dining
room in Dunster House at Harvard University in 1970 where the
entire series was hanging on loan from the Fogg Art Museum. The
catalogue also notes that "apparently the earliest finished
designs for the series are in a private collection in England
and that further Days of Creation stained-glass windows
were made by Morris for Saint Editha's Church, Tamworth, Staffordshire
(1874), and Manchester College Chapel, Oxford (1895), and the
Della Robbia Pottery in Birkenhead made some ceramic panels (1895-1904).
The panels were acquired through Martin Birnbaum in 1934 for 860
pounds at the Sotheby's auction of property from Alexander Henderson,
later Lord Faringdon.
Moore (1841-1893) is another leading figure of the Aesthetic Movement
and his "Companions," an 1885 watercolor, gouache and
graphite on off-white wove paper is one of the loveliest works
in the exhibition.
In her catalogue essay on the work, Robyn Asleson provides the
"The pursuit of ideal beauty provided the focus of Albert
Moore's career. Essentially self-taught, he went on to become
a leading figure in the English Aesthetic Movement. Moore's early
work as an architectural draftsman and designer helped him to
develop a geometric system of proportion that he used in formulating
his pictorial compositions. All his works are underpinned by meticulously
refined linear armatures, which dictate the placement of every
element. In Companions, the result is an extremely complex
arrangement of contrasting patterns in which the strict orthogonal
linearity of the architecture contrasts with the flowing folds
and floral motifs of the fabrics and wallpaper. Moore conceived
of such pictures as perfected arrangements of line, form, and
color, without conventional subject matter or thematic significance.
The idealizing features of the two women in Companions
and the elegant arrangement of their drapery attest to Moore's
analysis of classical Greek sculpture, while the picture's flat,
allover surface patterning reflects his study of Japanese prints.
This stylistic eclecticism is consistent with Moore's belief in
the essential formal unity of all beautiful things a central tenet
of the Aesthetic Movement."
Homer (1836-1910) is widely considered the greatest American artist
and the Winthrop collection has several masterpieces by him.
"Sailboat and Fourth of July Fireworks," is an 1880
watercolor and white gouache and white wove paper that measures
9 ½ by 13 5/8 inches. "There is about it the unmistakable
aroma of James McNeill Whistler, Homer's expatriate contemporary,"
observed Nicholai Cikovsky Jr., in the catalogue entry for this
work. "The nighttime subject and close and subdued tonal
range of Sailboat and Fourth of July Fireworks are squarely
in the vein of Whistler's notorious nocturnes; what is more, in
its depiction of fireworks it resembles the most notorious nocturne
of all, the Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket
(1875; Detroit Institute of Arts), the one that John Ruskin said
in print was 'a pot of paint' flung in the public's face, and
for which, in 1877, Whistler sued him for libel. Homer could not
have seen The Falling Rocket itself when he painted Sailboat
and Fourth of July Fireworks in 1880, and he never spoke of
Whistler at this time (although he spoke very little at any time
Homer was an early Impressionist but would not appear to have
influenced by Whistler. This work is extremely impressive for
its daring abstraction.
Another great Homer watercolor in the Winthrop collection is "Schooner
at Sunset," a dazzling work of 1880 that is flamboyant and
It is amazing
to compare these two, quite wild watercolors that are much more
powerful than his brilliant earlier work in the medium, with "Mink
Pond," a magnificent, large watercolor over graphite that
Homer painted in 1891. "Mink Pond" is a quarter of a
mile or so from the North Woods Club in Minerva, New York in the
Adirondacks. Homer was a member of the club and visited the Adirondacks
"Mink Pond" shows a flower, a fish and a frog amid waterlilies
in a state of perfect, if not natural, equilibrium. It is a pristine,
frozen moment, rendered in exquisite detail. There are no wild
flourishes and also no clues to what might happen to the fish
or frog. They co-exist for the moment, confronting each other
with a butterfly in between.
This is a formal, highly finished work of realism, not impressionism,
and not expressionism. It is extremely lush and very intimate.
Albrecht Durer and even Michelangelo would have approved. Many
collectors would trade their entire collections for this incomparable
There are several Whistlers in the Winthrop collection including
a lovely blue-green nocturne painting.
two other highlights in the American section of the collection,
a very important and impressive "cabinet" still-life
by Charles Bird King, and a great landscape by George Inness (1925-1894)(see
City Review article on a 2003 exhibition on the artist at the
National Academy of Design), entitled "October Noon." Although
Inness began as a Hudson River School landscape painter, he evolved
his own personal and very evocative style of Tonalism, an impressionism
of soft, atmospheric palettes and delicacy. "October Noon"
is an oil on canvas that measures 30 5/8 by 44 5/8 inches and
was completed in 1891 and is one of the artist's masterpieces.
It deserves to be flanked by two great reddish horizontal abstractions
by Mark Rothko and it would not be dominated or overwhelmed.
"The simple composition of October Noon approaches
abstraction," wrote Theodore E. Stebbins Jr., in his catalogue
essay on the painting. "Three nearly equal horizontal bands
dominate: in the foreground lies a green pasture, which itself
is bisected by a path leading into the distance; above it is a
band of trees composed of an orchard, and, farther to the right,
a copse of tall trees, through which one sees a few houses; while
the top third comprises a muted blue sky with clouds. A woman
in red, perhaps going home, walks away from us down the path,
while a tall, spindly white birch, already half-bare of autumn
leaves, leans to the left, balancing the rightward course of the
walking figure. Inness's varied brushwork and his occasional use
of subtractive, calligraphic markings, incised with the blunt
wooden end of the brush, emphasize his emotional involvement with
the painting. Inness here may well have been ruminating on departure
and death, given his emphasis on the late autumn coloring, the
end-of-day mood, and the single receding figure in his composition."
In his late landscapes, Inness achieved poetic heights with very
bold compositions, fabulous brushwork and richly saturated colors.
"October Noon" celebrates the simple landscapes of New
Jersey, where the artist lived, but its intensity of perspective
raises its banner high. The solitary tall birch suggests a flagpole
buffered in the wind of a very bright, unambiguous, definitely
not uncertain, day.
The Winthrop exhibition is adjacent to another entitled "Across
the Channel," which examines relationships between English
and French artists in the 19th Century. "Across the Channel"
is highlighted by several superb works by Gericault and a study
for Delacroix's great "Death of Sardanopoulos," but
it pales in comparison with the Winthrop exhibition. Surprisingly,
the Metropolitan has not promoted the Winthrop exhibition as much
as the "Channel" exhibition.