Eric Zafran: “The Wadsworth Atheneum Leads the Way”


– As you’ve already gathered from Pete, our symposium would be woefully incomplete had we not included on our roster of speakers Erick Zafran. Now retired from his duties
as the Susan Mores Hills curator of European art
at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford. It is Erick, after all, who authored the majesterial essay on
collecting Baroque art in America for that exhibition catalog, “Boticelli to Tiepolo in 1994.” And that still stands, as Pete emphasized, as the touchstone for this field. His engagement with the subject runs so deep, in fact,
that he will be presenting not one, but two talks at our symposium this weekend. That’s a first for us, giving
someone a double assignment. Eric received his B.A.
from Brandeis University and earned his PhD from
New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts in 1972. By 1975, after doing
cataloging for Park Brunette and the Metropolitan
Museum, he co-authored and edited with John Richardson the National Gallery of
Art exhibition catalog, “Master Paintings from the Hermitage,” and then, the following
year, he was appointed chief curator at the Chrysler Museum. That was the beginning of a succession of distinguished
appointments as chief curator of European art at
illustrious American museums, and at most of these,
Eric was engaged not only in exhibition planning and
authoring collection catalogs, but also in gallery renovation
and re-installation, perhaps the most dramatic
being at the Heim museum, moving their collection into
the Richard Meyer building. After the Chrysler came the Heim in 1979, then the Walters Art gallery in 1984, and then Eric became
the James A. Mernickham curator of renaissance
and baroque art there, and was responsible for
the major acquistion of Guido Reni’s “Mary Magdalene.” This was followed by the
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and significant guest
curatorships that overlapped with that, including for
the Taft museum’s 1992 exhibition catalog,
“Cardinals and Cavaliers: “19th Century French Anecdotal Painting.” Erick also authored
the essay on collecting baroque art at the
Filbrick at just that time. From March, 1995 to January, 1997, Eric was deputy director
of curatorial affairs at the Jewish Museum just up 5th Avenue, still supervising exhibitions
and preparing essays on the formation of the
Ringling Museum’s collection for its anniversary volume. Eric arrived at his final destination, the Wasworth Atheneum, in 1997, and as their curator of
European painting and sculpture, and there he remained until
his retirement last year. He oversaw the renovation
and reinstallation of old master European galleries there, and helped organize two exhibitions of Italian baroque paintings lent from museums in Rome. Suffice it to say that
this indefatigable scholar prepared and cataloged on average an exhibition a year, on a mind-bogglingly varied spectrum of topics in Hartford. He concluded his Atheneum stint in 2012 with special exhibitions of the museum’s French paintings and drawings, and the publication of the catalog, “Master of French painting, 1290 to 1920.” That’s not good for a
dyslexic, is it? (laughs) Please join me in welcoming Eric Zafram for his first appearance
at our podium this weekend, as he illuminates how
the Watsworh Atheneum led the way. (applause) – Thank you, Inga. It does sound like I’ve
been around for along time. But not when the Atheneum was founded, as you see it here in
a lithograph of 1856. The museum’s publicity is that it’s America’s oldest active public art museum still in operation today. Its Gothic revival
facade still looks today much as it did when the
museum opened in 1844. It was founded by the
civic-minded collector Daniel Wadsworth, portrayed
here by Thomas Sully, and then seen near the end of his life in an 1848 daguerreotype. (audience laughter) It was called an atheneum after Athena, the Greek goddess of
wisdom, since in addition to an art gallery, it also
housed an historical society, a natural history
collection, and a library. Mr. Wadsworth, who was
the son of a successful businessman, gave his
family’s land in the center of Hartford, and
bequeathed his collection, which was primarily
devoted to great examples of American painting,
as he was a patron first of Thomas Cole and then Frederick Church. Early museum catalogs
list works attributed to Mario Rubens and Poussin, but these have all disappeared, and cannot be seen in the only old installation
photograph of about 1890. The single Italian 17th century painting from Mr. Wadsworth’s collection is this Ruth and Boaz that at
one time was attributed to Schiavoni. The Atheneum thus continued
to remain primarily an American painting
collection with few older European works, with the
exception of a bequest in 1914 from America’s
leading 19th century soprano, Clara Louise Kellog. She had retired to New
Hartford, Connecticut, and among the works from her collection is this “Virgin in Glory
with Saints” by the Venetian Gregorio Lazzarini. This remained the rather bleak European painting situation at the Atheneum until a seismic change took place in 1927, with the appointment,
as you’ve already heard, of this gentleman, the director became the 26-year-old A. Everett Austin, Junior, known universally as Chick. He had never run an organization or even been a curator,
but he’d been educated well at Phillips Andover and Harvard, where he spent several years working in various capacities
at the Fog art museum. This charming and energetic young man was aware of all the
current trends and tastes, and produced a true revolution in the museum’s development. At the Fog, he had assisted its director, seen here in the
foreground, Edward Forbes, and it was Forbes who recommended him to the Hartford Museum authorities. Chick had the opportunity
to observe Forbes and the assistant director you see there, Paul Sacks, purchasing
artworks for the Fog, and this included a new
trend of baroque art, including, in 19,
beginning, really, in 1924, with the supposed Caravaggio
“Saint Sebastian,” which is now identified as by Caracciolo. Harvard’s faculty at
the time also included the distinguished expert of Spanish art, Chandler Post, who had been responsible for acquiring for the Fog
this baroque masterpiece, Ribera’s “Saint Jerome,” in 1922. And it was in that very year of 1922 that Chick had graduated from Harvard, and he joined immediately the Harvard and Boston Museum of Fine Arts’ archaeological expedition to Egypt. Surprisingly, this proved to be fortuitous for his knowledge of the baroque, since on his way to Egypt, his ship had docked in Italy, and he took advantage of a week’s stay to visit that large, ground-breaking expedition,
“Pintura italiana “del secento e del settecento,” which, you’ve already heard, was so key. It was on view at the Pitti Palace in Florence, and it was a massive show with more than a thousand pictures, everything from Caravaggio to Tiepolo, but especially with many examples by the then-most popular baroque painters, Magnosco and Strozzi, and included at the very end of this wall here, is the Strozzi which Chick Austen saw and fell in love with, and as you’ll see, was later able to purchase. It made quite a lasting impression. Another formative source for his taste of the baroque, which
we’ve also heard about already, was the little
book published in 1924, by Sacheverell Sitwell. This modest volume,
“Southern Baroque Art,” was unusual in its focus
on the Neopolitan painters Solimena and Giordano. As Kenneth Clark observed, at
the time of its publication, baroque and Rococo were
still terms of abuse, and southern art was
considered vulgar beyond words. Yet such was the sureness of Sitwell’s eye and eloquence that in a single volume, the whole was changed. Southern baroque created a revolution in the history of English tastes, and clearly made its mark
on American collecting as well, through Chick Austen. He became, in many ways, the model of a modern museum director
and patron of the arts. He was really an impresario in the manner of Diaghilev, whom he greatly admired and whose Ballets Russes company he saw in Europe every
season from 1923 to ’29. And as you know, he formed at the Atheneum a very extensive collection
of Ballets Russes material. He also organized many
innovative exhibitions, including the first major
Picasso retrospective in America, as well as the
first major surrealist show with the help of Julian Levi, called “Newer Super-Realism.” In addition, he introduced
educational classes in art, presented film, music, and dance, especially in the year 1934, when he hosted the premiere of the Gertrude Stein Virgil Thompson Opera,
“Four Saints in Three Acts,” and the first performances in America of the company directed
by George Balanchine, whom he and Lincoln Kirstein brought to this country, and in
Hartford was presented Balanchine’s first American-themed ballet, “Alma Mater,” which
told the story in dance, surprisingly enough, of
the Harvard-Yale gang– (audience laughter) It’s one of those ballets the.. city opera, city ballet,
hasn’t revived, sadly. (audience laughter) Chick himself liked to perform, and he appeared in both
serious plays like Hamlet, and also in his annual
fundraising magic shows as the Great Ozram. He was also a designer, and planned both his own remarkable home, modeled after a Palladium villa, which is in Hartford still, and, in 1933, the new bow house-style aviary wing of the museum, which also housed, much for his interest, a theater where he could perform. But, Austen not only built buildings, he built the Atheneum’s
collection in remarkable ways, buying on the one hand
such great old masters and 19th century gyms, oops, here he is again, sorry, as the Poussin, Claude, Suertz, Gros, Degas, and Gogan. But then on the other,
showing his sympathy for contemporary art,
he was in the forefront of acquiring Picasso, the surrealists, such as Dali, Miro, Ernst, and modernists like Mondrian. Austen was fortunate that in the very year he arrived in Hartford,
the funds from a local benefactor, Mr. Frank Sumner, provided a most generous bequest
of over a million dollars that allowed him to
carry out his ambition, as he stated, “to acquire
for Hartford, over “a period of years, a
series of acknowledged “and unquestionable art masterpieces. “Not pictures that may
simply be popular today, “but pictures that will
stand the test of time.” And certainly many of them did, and thanks to Mr. Sumner, I could go on adding to the collection as well. In carrying out his pursuit, Austen had as a brain trust, several key friends he had made at Harvard. These included the young
architectural historian Henry Russel Hitchcock, Junior, shown here lighting up a cigarette, as
everybody did at that time, who was then teaching at
nearby Wesleyan College; and perhaps even more importantly, the other gentleman seen here, R. Kirk Eskew, Junior, whom
Chick had already known at Phillips Andover, and
who, after leaving Harvard, went to work for the recently opened New York branch of the
long-established London firm of Durlacher Brothers that
specialized in baroque art. Eskew eventually took over the firm, and with his beautiful wife Constance, they made their brownstone
on East 61st Street, which Austen frequented when in the city, into a lively gathering
place for the intelligentsia and avant-garde of the art world. That meant cocktails were
always available at teatime, and business could be mixed with pleasure. After Austen assumed the reigns of the directorship, he
lost no time in searching for paintings to acquire. An invoice of 1928 documents that already, a “Saint Stephen” by
Fetti had been sent by Durlachers to the Atheneum
for consideration. It was not acquired,
and went instead to the Memorial Art Gallery at Rochester. But in 1930, Eskew had more success, and the Atheneum’s first
baroque acquisition under Austen was Salvator Rosa’s “Night Scene with Figures.” This small work, which cost $900, had been in the Holfort collection at Dorcestor House in London. It seemed at the time a
quintessential work by Rosa, and in an article in
the museum’s bulletin, Henry Russel Hitchcock
praised its romantic intensity of emotion, showing
a wild landscape at night. Unfortunately, in more recent times, this very romanticism has led to the work being downgraded to the
status of a pastiche in the manner of the master. One of the advantages in
forming a new collection from scratch, and perhaps
already planning ahead to the construction of a new building was that size did not deter acquisitions, and in the case of baroque paintings, this was all to the good,
for the next Italian baroque paintings
purchased from Durlachers in 1930, for only $12,000, were the two, were the enormous Luca Giordanos, “The Abduction of Helen,” and
“The Abduction of Europa.” Hitchcock this time noted
that they illustrated the decorative baroque tradition, and to show off these first
exciting acquisitions, to promote the appreciation
of the baroque, and to draw attention of a wider audience to the Atheneum, Austen
decided, in January, 1930, to organize what would
really be America’s first significant exhibition of
baroque paintings and drawings. The earlier 1929 show in
Harvard that you’ve heard about was really a small-scale
affair, mainly from local collections in Boston and Cambridge. But this was meant to be a larger show, highlighting works all across America. It was called, “Italian Art
of the Se- and Settecento,” and as Austen explained in a letter to Gertrude Hertel at
the Memorial Art Gallery, requesting that very
Fetti he had rejected, “As you know, in America,
it is exceedingly difficult “to procure material of
this epoch, and I want “the exhibition to be large
enough and important enough “to attract as many out-of-town
people as possible.” To aid in his pursuit of
appropriate paintings, Austen relied on his
knowledgeable circle of friends. Kirk Eskew had been on a
recent tour around America, and sent Austen information
on loans, potentially, from museums in Chicago,
Minneapolis, and Detroit, as well as photos of baroque
pictures in the collection of John Ringling, whose museum was then under construction; and in the letter that
Austen wrote to Mr. Ringling, he wrote, he said as well,
“I am a great admirer “of 17th and 18th century
painting, and want to do “all I can to change the underestimation “in which it has been
held for so many years.” But sadly, as you heard,
his letter went unanswered. However, Dr. Valentiner
in Detroit agreed to lend a picture supposedly by Antonio Balestra, but now attributed to the French painter Pierre-Louis Cretey,
and he wrote to Austen that an exhibition of
Italian baroque paintings surely would be of the greatest value to the student and to the
development of interest in this direction in this country. Among the other museum
loans that you can see on the wall, there was, from
the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Quicino’s large
“Toilette of Venus.” Sadly, later de-accessioned
and on the art market. The Vastor College art
gallery lent what was then thought to be a Pretti,
“Herminia and the Shepherd,” but it’s now called “Andrea Vacarro.” The Boston collector Frank McComber sent his large painting by Luco Giordano of “Saint Sebastian
Tended by Saint Irene,” which had been on loan to the Boston museum of fine arts since 1913, but after the exhibition would be given to the Atheneum. The Fog art museum was extremely generous with three paintings,
the Ribera “Saint Jerome” that I showed you, the Caravaggio school “Saint Sebastian,” and
another supposed Caravaggio they had acquired of card players, purchased in 1928. Of the paintings lent by dealers, the one Chip decided to buy came from Wildenstein and Company. This was considered then a Caravaggio, “Portrait of a Young Boy,”
and he was able to get Felix Wildenstein to lower the price from $7,500 to $6,500. But Austen fairly soon came to realize that this was not a
Caravaggio, but probably a French work by an artist
whom we now identify as the “master of the open-mouthed boys.” (audience laughter) Thereafter, Austen remained continually on the lookout for a real Caravaggio, and in later correspondence, Wildenstein suggested first that it
might be possible to purchase “The Lute Player” from the Hermitage; and when that did not come to pass, he offered him, instead, as a Caravaggio, “The Chastisement of Love,” a work of art that eventually went to the
Art Institute of Chicago where, of course, it is
now attributed to Manfredi. So for the time being,
Austen turned his attention to other acquisitions. One of the most spectacular
was certainly that of 1931, when he arranged
to purchase, for $17,000, from the Venetian dealer Italico Brass, Strozzi’s “Great Saint
Katherine of Alexandria,” the work he’d seen in the
1922 Florence exhibition. Henry Russel Hitchcock,
writing this time in the museum’s bulletin, really waxed ecstatic about the new acquisition, noting, “The most astonishing
element is the bravora “of the painting of the
drapery, in great broad “and crisp folds, in
which the light glints “and is reflected in all directions “as from a baroque glory.” It was going to be a hard
act to follow that picture. But the following year,
Kirk Eskew proposed a monogrammed Caracciolo, “Annunciation,” with an authentication
by one of the world’s leading baroque experts, Dr. Herman Voss of the Berlin museum. And it was purchased for $3,000. In 1933, Eskew offered a Fetti, “David with the Head of Goliath,” and a large Salvator Rosa of a landscape with Tobias and the
angel, from the collection of Lord Jersey at Austerly Park. The two pictures were
priced together at $6,000, and after hanging both
of them in the museum’s galleries to study, Austen wrote to Eskew, and this is sad for us later,
inheritors of the collection, “I have decided not to get
the Fetti at the moment, “as it seems to look not so
well in the baroque room. “The Rosa, on the other
hand, is magnificent “against the red wall,
and I like it very much.” As a single item, it cost $3,100. In May of 1934, Eskew sent to Hartford for purchase consideration works by Castiglioni, Marata, and Magnasco, but none of them was acquired. Not until 1936 were there
more Italian baroque purchases, and these were now made from the other chief dealer Austen came to rely upon, the German-born Paul Bick of Arnold Sullivan Rey and Company. This is the obituary photo
from the New York Times, it was the only image I could find of him. He established a warm
avuncular relationship with the director and his family, and the first painting he sold was Giuseppe Maria
Crespi’s charming little “Self-Portrait of the
Artist in His Studio,” which just the previous
year had been exhibited in Bologna. Then, in May of 1936, Bick supplied, for only $800, a Solamano,
which he described as a superb picture
representing the foundation of the Dominican
monastery of Monte Casino. Chick, perhaps recalling Sitwell’s book, made a point of noting that Solamano was a talented poet, as well as a musician. This study of scenes from the life of Saint Benedict has, in fact, become more significant over time, for, as you know, the abbey of Monte Casino was destroyed by Ally bombardment in 1944. In 1937, while it was
still safe to go to Europe, Austen, accompanied by
his friend Agnes Ringe, the director of the
Vasser at museum, spent the summer traveling
there, seeking to find baroque pictures, as she
described it, “at the source.” He had his greatest
success in Vienna, where from the dealer Fritz
Monshine of the gallery Saint Lucas, he made
several acquisitions for very modest sums. As a Guido Reni, he
purchased this bust-length Saint Sebastian for $150. This was attributed by Voss
at the time to Bilverti, but has more reasonably been identified as by Carlo Dulci, and
coincidentally, at the same time, Austen had actually acquired a recognized Dulci, “The Christ Child
with Flowers,” for only $170. Also on this same buying
spree, he purchased, for $1,100, “The
Presentation in the Temple,” that was then thought to
be by Sebastiano Ricci but was later called
Magnasco, and ultimatey, de-accessioned. As a Magnasco, he did
purchase that same year, from Arnold Sullivan Rey and Company, “The Cloister School.” It had belonged to the
great Magnasco expert, Beno Guiger, but also
was eventually downgraded to a copyist status and sold off. Fortunately, in 1937,
Austen visited the Nerdla gallery in New York, and
its director, Mr. Hemchell, made a special price of
$3,500 for an authentic Magnasco, “The Medici Hunting Party,” an important work by
Magnasco from his time in Florence, and
documenting an actual outing by his Medici patrons. In January and February of 1938, Austen presented one of his most important and characteristic exhibitions, “The Painters of Still
Life,” which was notable for the mixing of old
and modern paintings; and in preparation for
this, he had, in 1937, acquired from two quite disparate sources, still lives of musical
instruments, which he attributed to Evaristo Baschenis. One came from the Dutch
dealer Peter de Bourgh for $400, and the other
came, surprisingly, from Julian Levi, his ally in
promoting the surrealists. Even more obviously reflecting
his taste for surrealism was Chick’s purchase from
a Parisian dealer in 1939 of a pair of Arcimbaldo school
paintings of the seasons, representing spring and summer. They cost only $1,400. Another unusual still
life came that same year from Durlachers, and was
this large fruit stall in the style of Vincenzo Campi. However, in 1941, a much
more significant still life appeared at the New York
dealer David Coetser. It was, at the dealer
wrote to Austen, attributed by Dr. Sweda to the Milanese
painter Fede Galizia. Austen was fascinated
by this complex work, which he was able to purchase for $2,500. It was widely exhibited,
and many attributions have been proposed. In 1960, Roberto Longhi
wrote that it was a Flemish copy after a lost early
Caravaggio; and in more recent times, the artists has been identified as Prospero Orsi. But the museum, for the
time, prefers to keep the traditional name of “Master
of the Hartford Still Life.” Another significant
painting, which Austen also acquired in 1941, was a
good, if somewhat damaged, example by the Neapolitan
painter Bernardo Cavallino. This “Flight into Egypt,”
purchased from Durlachers for $2,800, came from the
collection of Kenneth Clark. The final flowering of
Austen’s Atheneum tenure came in the years 1943 and ’44. With regard to the baroque,
this saw the acquisition in April of 1943 of the supposed Guercino “Saint Sebastian with Armor,” from the Earl of Caledon’s collection. Paul Bick had first pitched this to Austen in April, 1941, noting
that “Mr. Picetto has “virtually put the picture
aside for Mr. Chris, “but I don’t want you to miss it, “as it is the only
well-identified Guercino, “and thus, a worthy
addition to your collection. “I asked you originally $7,500, but “would now take $6,500.” Austen fell for it, and
even got the price down to $5,500, and then
made it the centerpiece of his patriotic
exhibition, “Men in Arms,” shown in March, 1943. However, when later studied by Dennis Mon, the work was judged either an old copy of a lost original by
Guercino, or an independent work of a close follower. While his Guercino was not first-rate, Paul Bick was able to atone for this by producing one lost great baroque treasure for Chick. The first hint of this came
in a letter of November, 1939, in which he invited Chick
to “come to the gallery “when next you are in New
York, as I have a great “surprise in store. “I know in advance that you
will share my enthusiasm.” Certainly, the source of Bick’s enthusiasm was this remarkable Caravaggio, “The Ecstasy of Saint Francis.” Austen’s desire to get
this picture to Hartford became the raison d’etre
for one of his most exciting and original exhibitions. Chick wrote to Dr. Valentiner in Detroit, in January, 1940, “I am very
much involved in getting “together, rather hurriedly, I’m afraid, “an exhibition of
paintings of night scenes.” Presented in February
and March of that year, “Night Scenes” was a
typically wide-ranging Austen show, with everything
from Mansu Desiderio to Albert Pinkumriter. The exhibition catalog gave
a full-page illustration to the Caravaggio, and Austen’s text praised the miraculous chiaroscuro of the plastic forms, and
noted, rather grandly, that “this picture is related
to ‘The Rest and the Flight’ “of the Doria gallery, and
“The Story of Saint Matthew’ “in San Luigi de Francese.” But Chick was not to have an easy time convincing the Atheneum’s trustees to pay the specially reduced priced of $17,000. Over the course of several years, Bick patiently provided the information that the Italian experts
Longhi, Morassi, and Fioco all vigorously supported the attribution and the greatness of
the painting, and that the Cleveland Museum
was actually interested in acquiring it. Austen, by this time,
was having a multitude of trouble with his Atheneum trustees. A six-month’s sabbatical for the director had already been scheduled to begin in July, 1943, and so
he knew he had to make his last stand over the Caravaggio. Thus, on June 10th, he wrote a passionate, yet reasoned, long letter
to Robert Huntington, the chairman of the trustee
acquisition committee, arguing that this would
be the only authentic Caravaggio in America,
that the price was a true bargain, and the work would compliment the collection already created in Hartford. Fortunately, Mr. Huntington
gave his consent. The painting was purchased, and in June, quickly became the
centerpiece of an exhibition of 40 works entitled, “Caravaggio
and the 17th Century,” with all Chick’s acquisitions
and seven other paintings lent from New York galleries. Following this, Mr. Bick
invited Chick to begin his sabbatical as his guest
at the Garden of Allah in Los Angeles, and his
sabbatical was extended until January, 1945, when
he resigned the directorship of the museum. After a brief interval, he
would, as we have heard, continue his brilliant
museum work at the most appropriate of all American institutions, the Ringling museum in Sarasota. But his absence from Hartford did not completely end his
influence in acquisitions. While he was in Los
Angeles, it was discovered, much to the consternation of the trustees, that 30 paintings, which
over the years Austen had requested be sent to
the museum for possible purchase, had never been
shown to the trustees, and were still in storage. (audience laughter) I don’t know if that could happen today. In November of 1943,
they therefore requested that Chick choose the ones
he favored for purchase so that all the others could be returned. Fortunately, of those
that were in the basement, he selected the Gogan, and also, one of the most impressive paintings lent to the 1943 Caravaggio exhibition. This “Dedalus and Icarus,”
from Arnold Selgman and Rey, which was attributed by Vos to Cavallino. It’s a very striking,
large Caravaggiesque work, and in 1966, Roberto Longhi correctly attributed to the rare Pisan painter, Rotzio Riminaldi, and
it was recently a star in the Caravaggesque exhibition in both Los Angeles and Harvard. And Hartford, sorry. To replace Chick Austen,
which wasn’t easy, the Atheneum trustees again turned to Mr. Forbes at Harvard, and he naturally recommended another Harvard man, Charles C. Cunningham,
who began his tenure in January, 1946. Cunningham had been,
for a number of years, the assistant to the
renowned W. G. Constable in the department of European paintings at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Cunningham may not have had Chick Austen’s theatrical flair, and
he was less interested in contemporary art,
but he was wise enough to hire curators who added
greatly to the strengths of the museum; and during
his 20 years in Hartford, among those who worked
for him were Evan Turner, Peter Marlough, and Sam Wakestaff. But most importantly,
Cunningham had an excellent idea, and sought out both
great and offbeat paintings to build on what Chick had accomplished. In fact, some of the
Atheneum’s most famous paintings are Cunningham purchases, and not, as many assume, Austen’s. These include the iconic Zerihun, and the impressive Panini. And there’s Mr. Cunningham
with the Panini. He began, rather auspiciously, right where Chick had left off, acquiring
in 1948 a large Traversi from Durlachers. But a much more frequent
source of paintings for him was the
transplanted English dealer, David Koetser. In 1949, Koetser offered a splendid, large Orazio Gentileschi, of
Judith and her maidservant. Its asking price was
$14,000, and after the Museum of Fine Arts graciously withdrew from the hunt, the Atheneum got it for a remarkable reduced price of $12,500. Mr. Cunningham liked to make annual visits to the dealers in London,
as well, and it was in 1955 that he first saw at Thomas Agnew and Sons the painting by Salvator
Rosa, “Lucretia is Poetry.” Formerly in the Landsdown collection, it’s the pendant to the
painter’s self-portrait in the National Gallery, London. Geoffry Agnew promised
Cunningham first offer on this, and was able to
sell it the following year along with a very beautiful
holy family on panel, then identified as by Ludivico Caracci. This Longhi identified as
by the Caracci follower, Sisto Badalocchio. Charles Cunningham left Hartford to assume the directorship of the
Chicago Art Institute in 1966, but before his departure, he made, from New York dealers in 1963, two more significant baroque
acquisitions, which the museum’s Boltin identified as of
the Caravaggio school. From the dealer Fritz Monshine, who was now known as Frederick Mant, came Carlo Sarancheni’s “Holy Family “in Saint Joseph’s Workshop.” This immensely appealing painting had been in a private collection in
France, and as the dealer who sold it for, now
the prices have jumped, he sold this for $57,000,
reported to Cunningham, Longhi, Bloch, Sterling, and Zarie had all greatly admired it. The other purchase was a greater coup for much less money. Formerly in the collection
of Prince Yusupov, Duvine brothers sold
it as Pietri Novelli’s “Sense of Taste” for $10,000. Once again, it was Roberto Longhi in 1966 who correctly identified
it as the most important early work by Giuseppe
Ribera from his series of the five senses,
painted in Rome about 1614. It, too, has become
one of the iconic works in the Wadsworth Atheneum. As I think is quite evident,
Austen and Cunningham in their combined 39 years of leadership, had established the Wadsworth Atheneum as one of America’s most important centers for Italian baroque painting. They also set the bar quite high for those of us who came later. And so when Peter Sutton
and I were working together at the Atheneum
in the late 1990s, we found it very
difficult to find pictures of the quality, size, and
presence to match those acquired by our predecessors. But we were fortunate that one such equally great work did
come on the art market. It was Valerio Castello’s, Castello’s, brilliant, large “Legends of
Saint Genevieve of Brabant.” It had belonged to one
of America’s greatest collectors of Italian baroque paintings, Walter P. Chrysler, Junior, and if you are brave enough to return
tomorrow, I will tell you all about him. Thank you. (audience applause)

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