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Chester Dale, Benefactor

May 2–July 2, 1988
East Building, Ground Floor, Study Center

This exhibition is no longer on view at the National Gallery.


Original exhibition poster
(click to enlarge)

Overview: This exhibit recognized the outstanding gifts to the library by Chester Dale. One of the founding benefactors of the National Gallery of Art and general trustee from 1955 until his death in 1962, Dale was an important contributor to the library. His gifts over the years totaled 1,733 books, 467 exhibition catalogs, 1,232 sales catalogs, and 256 periodicals, as well as scrapbooks of newspaper and magazine clippings, photographs, and memorabilia.

Dale, assisted by his wife Maud who was an artist and critic, began collecting art seriously in the 1920s and 30s. First acquiring paintings by American artists, they later concentrated on French art of the impressionist and post-impressionist schools and modern art of the 20th century. A shrewd and determined buyer with an exceptional memory, Dale was a frequent visitor to galleries and auctions. To improve his bargaining skill, Dale became a partner in the art firm Galerie Georges Petit of Paris.

Over the years, Dale built up a large art library, essential to him in acquiring a growing knowledge of works of art and of the art market. His collection of sales catalogs give evidence of their constant use, some including original prints and extensively annotated with prices and buyers’ names. Four were included in the display. The exhibit featured other outstanding examples from the Dale library, including early exhibition catalogs and books in limited editions with fine illustrations, as well as volumes inscribed to Chester and Maud Dale, two of which contain original drawings by Picasso and Dalí.

Also included in the display were photographs of paintings as they had hung in the Dale residence in New York City and photographs of portraits of Maud and Chester Dale, commissioned from four of their artist friends.

Organization: The exhibition was organized by the National Gallery of Art. Caroline Backlund, head of reader services, was curator.