National Gallery of Art - EXHIBITIONS
American Impressionism and Realism

Reminiscences and Reflections on Collecting

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In staying with our decision, we do not mean to exaggerate the importance of this kind of painting in terms of world, or even American, art, or, for that matter, even in terms of other American art at the turn of the century. We realized, for instance, that our sensibility did not embrace Thomas Eakins -- even though we believed then, and continue to believe, that he was America's greatest painter -- or Winslow Homer -- other than a few lyric exceptions like his 1869 oil Long Branch, New Jersey, in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. On the other hand, we felt that people who neglected or undervalued the turn-of-the-century American art that captivated us were simply not using their eyes and were overlooking an entire era of beautiful painting.

For a while I was not altogether comfortable with the term "collector," but I guess we began to fit that category when, in the three years from 1963 to 1965, we acquired close to fifty paintings, including Gondolier's Siesta, by John Singer Sargent; Low Tide, Riverside Yacht Club, by Theodore Robinson; Back of a Nude, by William Merritt Chase; A Summer Day, by Frank W. Benson; At the Shore, by Alfred H. Maurer; and Revere Beach, by Maurice Prendergast.

In 1966, a change in public and critical opinion about the paintings we were collecting became noticeable. I can pinpoint this date because of an accident. In those years, the Metropolitan Museum had a yearly summer loan show comprising paintings from private collections. Before 1966, virtually the only paintings included were blockbuster French works. But that spring we were moving to another apartment, and to accommodate us, Stuart P. Feld, then the curator of American art, arranged to have our paintings stored briefly in the museum's basement. The associate curator of European paintings -- whom we had never met -- accidently came upon our paintings and asked Stuart whether the owners might be willing to lend to the summer loan show. We readily agreed, and when the show opened we were astonished and pleased to see a room devoted entirely to fifteen of our paintings.

This, I think, marked the turning point. After this summer show, several dealers in American art reported to me that their clients had begun to ask to see "Horowitz" paintings and American impressionist pictures.

As our knowledge deepened and we became more discriminating, we realized that some of our purchases had been mistakes and that others had lost their romance. Because a collector never stops making mistakes, refinement never ends and a collection is never "finished." It is like a living organism. If you stop collecting, the collection becomes a lifeless thing, merely decoration on the walls.

Beginning in 1964 we began the process, which still continues, of weeding out and trading up, of making gifts to museums, exchanging, and, once in a while, selling. One of the first paintings we acquired in part through exchange is our Prendergast oil, Picnic by the Inlet, painted between about 1918 and 1923. I got a crack at it only after it had been turned down as too expensive by a handful of very wealthy collectors. It immediately burned a hole in my head, but I thought it was too rich for me. I could not stop thinking about the Prendergast, and I finally told the dealer, "Let's have it home." Once at home I knew I could never send it back, and, after parting with five of our fine pictures and some cash, it was ours.

This is an appropriate moment to report that in our experience with the dealers in American art -- and we bought from all of them over the years -- they have been genuinely helpful, decent, and just plain nice.

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