Reminiscences and Reflections on Collecting
These remarks, slightly revised and edited, are taken from a talk delivered at the conference "Expanding Horizons: American Painting 1865 - 1930," held at New York University on 25 April 1996.page 1 of 5
A collector, when talking about his or her collection, runs the risk of appearing either immodest or falsely modest, as well as of repeating the usual tiresome clichés about art collecting. Yet by looking back and reconstructing the story of our collection, some light may be cast on the development of interest in turn-of-the-century American painting.
Since our college days, both Margaret and I have had a lively interest in painting and the history of art. As an undergraduate at Columbia College, I attended courses in art history given by the late Meyer Shapiro, and after graduation I attended classes by him at the New School for Social Research in New York. Margaret and I enjoyed frequent visits to museums and art galleries. But art was only one of our interests, and I was a Depression kid and a busy, hard-working lawyer. Growing up, I had never collected anything except stamps, and then only for a few short months. If, thirty-five years ago, someone had suggested that I would become an art collector, I would have said he was out of his mind.
We did not set out in any deliberate way to assemble a collection. On the contrary, like most important decisions in one's life, it was accidental and unplanned. In the late 1950s, my close friend, Dan Fraad, who was a collector of nineteenth- and twentieth-century American representational painting, gave me a French drawing as a birthday present on several successive birthdays. I wanted to reciprocate and, because our friend then had only American oils, we decided to give him an American drawing for a Christmas present. It would have been inappropriate to spend more than a modest sum, but we discovered that we could buy a good -- though not a great -- American drawing for two hundred dollars or less. For two years, Margaret, almost daily, scouted the galleries specializing in American art, and I joined her on Saturday afternoons. We also read everything on American art we could get our hands on. For the first gift to our friend we came up with a sensitive drawing by William Glackens, and the next year we presented him with a fine George Bellows drawing.
Some time in 1960, having by then become so immersed in the field, we thought that it might not be a bad idea to buy ourselves some American drawings. And so, more as a lark than as anything serious, we began. The first things we bought were about half a dozen inexpensive works on paper by Robert Henri, William Glackens, Everett Shinn, and John Twachtman. We weren't as yet fully involved in either the fact or the idea of collecting art, but we continued to visit the galleries regularly and then, one day in early 1961, we saw a painting that had an immediate and irresistible appeal. It was an early work by Robert Henri, Girl Seated by the Sea, painted in 1893. The price was many times more than the cost of the drawings we had previously acquired, but we knew we had to have it, and so -- as I would do many times in the future -- I gulped and bought it on the spot. We already knew enough about Henri to know that he painted in an impressionist idiom for only a few years and that this painting was not characteristic of the main body of his work. But this didn't stop us.page 1 of 5 | index