National Gallery of Art - EXHIBITIONS
American Impressionism and Realism

Reminiscences and Reflections on Collecting

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Margaret and I were never interested in assembling a "historical" collection, and we never felt a compulsion to "fill in gaps." But we did try, after 1966, to concentrate on acquiring top examples of certain artists. One of them was William Merritt Chase. His pastel Self-Portrait, made about 1884, is one of only four pictures that we bought at auction. It has tremendous panache, and, like Manet's pastels, has all the warmth and force of a painting in oil. Another of the paintings by Chase we acquired was the oil The Fairy Tale, painted in 1892. One day Margaret accidentally met the delivery man of a certain art gallery, who told her that he thought a good Chase had just come in. She practically ran to the gallery, asked to see the painting, almost fainted when she saw it, called me at the office and told me to come at once. When I arrived we bought it. It is Margaret's personal favorite and it has become the signature painting of our collection. That a detail from it -- the delicate, lovingly painted figures and balancing parasol, positioned against a portion of the directly painted landscape -- was used by William Gerdts for the dust jacket of his American Impressionism, the standard work on the subject, did a lot to make that so.

In 1971, John K. Howat, curator of American art at the Metropolitan Museum, told us that the museum wanted to hold an exhibition of our paintings. We were excited and thrilled. Howat selected fifty paintings by twenty-five artists. He and Dianne Pilgrim, now director of the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, spent the next year and a half producing a scholarly but lively and handsome catalogue. The exhibition opened in April of 1973, and, I understand, was well attended.

After the 1973 exhibition, we took a breather to take stock. We have continued to keep our hand in, but the pace of our collecting has slowed. Things that interest us have always been in short supply, but now, when things do turn up their prices are towering, and some paintings, sadly, have simply been beyond our reach.

That said, some of our very best acquisitions were made after 1973. One of them is William Merritt Chase's oil Reflections, painted in 1893. Although the painting relies on the common iconography of the mirrored reflection for both its subject and its title, it is complex and full of meaning. It is quite different from our other Chases and is one of my all-time favorites.

Another of our top favorites, acquired just a few years ago, is Childe Hassam's Poppies, (Poppies, Isles of Shoals) painted in 1891 on the Isle of Appledore, off the coast of New Hampshire. It is generally agreed that Hassam's Isles of Shoals paintings of the early 1890s are his best. With its great delicacy and strong pictorial structure, we think this is one of the very best of the best.

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