National Gallery of Art - EXHIBITIONS
American Impressionism and Realism

Reminiscences and Reflections on Collecting

back page 5 of 5

One of the exciting experiences in collecting is the capacity to be surprised. When we first saw Portrait of John Leslie Breck by J. Carroll Beckwith we could not believe it was his work. We had known Beckwith only as a kind of beaux-arts portrait painter, and had never seen anything by him in this loose, impressionist manner. We liked the painting at once. We were even more pleased when we learned that its subject was another artist, and that it was painted in Giverny in 1891. Not wanting to lose it, we overpaid considerably for it, in terms of typical Beckwith prices at the time. Collectors can sometimes be goofy this way when they want something badly enough, but we just could not resist this impressionist portrait done with such obvious affection and brio, portraying a young man on the edge of experience, but already showing a touch of melancholy in his eyes.

Our most recent acquisition is an oil of about 1895 by John Twachtman, a view of his house in Greenwich, Connecticut, titled September Sunshine. For us, this painting has the same lyricism -- the personally felt intensity of style, emotion, and quality -- that runs through the entire collection.

A final note. Collecting can sometimes bring out the worst in one -- especially in an aggressive, price-tag culture -- but more often it can also be, to use Bernard Berenson's famous phrase, "life-enhancing." The fact that one collects in a narrow field does not mean that one's field of vision must be narrow. Indeed, the opposite is true. The passion for discovery is heightened and concentrated and the search to see behind the curtain becomes more intense. Collecting, looking, reading become an adventure in innovation, in seeing things in new ways, in refashioning and refreshing your ideas about life -- and this is what art is all about. Collecting in this manner takes on in some small way the attribute, not of creativity, to be sure, but of the high purpose of finding things that no one ever thought were there.

back page 5 of 5  |  index