George Keyes: “Collecting Flemish Paintings in the Midwest, from Detroit to Minneapolis”


– George Keyes was educated
at the College of Wooster and Oberlin College prior
to receiving his PhD in 1975 from the University of Utrecht. During the late 1970s and early 80s, he was the compiler for the
seven volume publication of the F.W.H. Hollstein Dutch and Flemish etchings and woodcuts publication that was ranging from 1450 to 1700. He then served as curator of paintings at the Minneapolis Institute
of Arts from 1982 to 1994, at which time he moved on to
serve in the same capacity and eventually as chief curator and European art department chair at the Detroit Institute of Arts, that until his retirement until 2008. George’s scholarly
articles have appeared in Arte Vanitas, Master
Drawings, Old Holland, the Burlington Magazine, the Bulletin of the
Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and the Bulletin of the
Detroit Institute of Arts, among many other journals, and his exhibitions that
he’s curated include “Mirror of Empire, Dutch Marine
Art of the 17th Century,” “Van Gogh Face to Face,”
“Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus,” and “Rembrandt in America.” George has published monographs
on Cornelius Hendricks Vroom Esais Van De Velde, and Pieter Bast, and most recently he
co-edited and contributed to the book “Seventeenth
Century European Drawings in Midwestern Collections:
The Age of Bernini, Rembrandt, and Poussin,”
published in 2015, so he may be retired,
but not exactly inactive. George serves as a trustee of the Lincoln County Historical Association and of the Pemaquid Watershed Association, and he’s also a member
of the advisory committee for Bowdoin College Museum
and of art this morning. George will speak to us today about collecting Flemish
paintings in the Midwest, something no one knows
more about than George. Please welcome him to the podium. (applause) – Well Inge thank you very much for your very kind introduction. I did want to explain
that the Hollstein volumes consist of far more than seven. I ended up basically only
working on the letter S, and so my wife referred to me as Superman, I don’t feel like that
however, just pass that on. I’m actually starting my
lecture with the chart. I’m a little embarrassed because in a way, the
chart sort of says it all, not quite however, but what I’ve done here is I’ve indicated the various museums I’ll be alluding to, and the first column indicates the number of Dutch
paintings in the collection, the second the number
of Flemish paintings, and then I thought I would add columns for Van Dyck, Jordaens, and Rubens, and you’ll notice I also added in parens the number of works which came as gifts, and there’s a reason for this because as you can see from the chart, it clearly confirms one very obvious trend in collecting throughout the Midwest, which is a clear preference
for Dutch paintings of the Golden Age relative
to their contemporaneous Flemish counterparts. So you have here, with the chart, ratios of roughly three to
one and even four to one in some instances, which are,
but this three to one ratio is certainly not uncommon, and I do need to explain
that my figures are not 100% accurate, but it is as
close as I could ascertain. I also want to qualify
the numbers associated with Van Dyck, Jordaens, and Rubens with the disclaimer that these numbers also include paintings, mostly gifts, that are often highly problematic or involve overly optimistic attributions that are no longer tenable. So my presentation as follows is divided into three sort
of chronologically structured areas of focus, the pioneer
collectors of the Midwest, collecting in the Midwest
inspired by the Gilded Age, and the subsequent era of collecting dominated by the training
and connoisseurship of professional museum staff. Our narrative begins in Detroit with the collecting activities
of James E. Scripps, and Arthur alluded to him yesterday. Now he was the founder
of the Scripps-Booth newspaper syndicate, one of the great sort of newspaper dynasties in America in the course of the 20th century. In 1887, Scripps traveled to Europe, ostensibly for some kind of a health cure, but he seems to have
spent most of his time trying to buy art, and he’s
kind of a curious individual in this respect because he
wasn’t actually directly going into the marketplace himself, but he often was using agents, and what survives from the correspondence, and it’s pitiably small,
but involves telegrams between Scripps and various agents, primarily in London who
were bidding on his behalf. But as I said, he spent most of his time not regaining his health,
which I dare say he did do, but by buying art, mostly
old master paintings and works on paper. Among his purchases was
a fine group of paintings from the Corbett-Winder collection, which is a Welsh collection, and he seems to have gained both those largely through an agent, and ultimately secured a very fine,
very interesting group of Dutch 17th century paintings. Scripps also attended the
celebrated Secretan Sale, where he successfully
bid on a large Rubens and studio painting “The
Meeting of David and Abigail.” Now he had a specific reason
for buying this painting, and it’s sort of again
starting with a Dutch picture. This is one of the most
puzzling and enigmas in the Detroit collection. It’s a very large history painting. He acquired it from a Venetian collection as a Rembrandt, and as I said, it’s a very large picture. When I arrived in Detroit,
it actually was in storage, but I thought what an extraordinary thing for a man in middle America
to have acquired in the 1880s, but he needed a counterpart for this so-called key Rembrandt
painting in his collection, so he acquired this wonderful
Rubens and studio painting, “The Meeting of David and Abigail,” which is also a very large picture, and I think you can
even see from the slide, it’s actually quite interesting. There’s a strip that’s
been added across the top, and it was done because at some point, an English 18th century frame
was made for this painting, and I’m really quite happy, I’m sorry I don’t have a slide
of the painting in its frame because it’s sort of interesting, that it retains this 18th
century English oil gilded frame, and then that frame wasn’t strong enough, so there was kind of a Victorian surround that was wrapped around
the 18th century frame, so it makes a very interesting example of how certain elements
of taste do somehow stay attached to paintings
in their rather curious way, so given the fact that
Scripps also collected Italian pictures, including
gold ground paintings, he bought a so-called Hieronymus Bosch, which “The Last Judgment,” which turns out to be a really diminutive
masterpiece by young Provoost, but the two great
anchors in his collection were these two pictures, so you’ll have to envisage them as being the alpha and the
omega of the Scripps collection. So he envisaged both of these paintings to be at the heart of his collection presented to the fledgling
Detroit Museum of Art, founded in 1885. Scripps hoped that his
collection would inspire others in the community to collect old masters, and unfortunately, this
did not come to pass for many decades, so this hope initially remained unfulfilled. One minor event is that in 1909, his widow presented, in
essence, the remainder of the collection to the museum, including all of the works on paper, so it wasn’t until the mid-1920s, with the arrival of William Valentiner, first as adviser to the museum and then as director in 1925 that the Detroit Institute
of Arts began buying old master paintings in earnest. Scripps acquired other Flemish paintings, reverting back to him briefly, including a double portrait
of a man and his wife by Anthony van Dyck, plus
paintings attributed to Jan Brueghel the Younger, Jan van Kessel, a church interior in the
style of Pieter Neefs, a copy after Teniers,
and a stellar example by Hendrick van Steenwyck the Younger, “Christ in the House of Mary and Martha,” are just an exquisitely
preserved work on copper, which when I arrived at the museum was at a colleague’s office, I said, whoops this is not on, we’ve
got a new frame for it, and it’s now very proudfully hanging in the public galleries. So the second pioneer
initiative occurred in Chicago when a group of early trustees
of the recently established Art Institute of Chicago
agreed to purchase paintings from the celebrated
Demidov Collection. This group of gentlemen, including
the young Martin Ryerson, a man who would play such a pivotal role in the subsequent history in
the Art Institute of Chicago, managed to secure 14 paintings
from the Demidov Collection, of which 11 are 17th century
Dutch, one Netherlandish, and two 17th century Flemish works, one by Cornelius Haussmans,
hardly a household name in this country, and the
other by the token Dutchman David Teniers the Younger. In the years shortly after 1900, collectors in the Midwest became cognizant of the hugely ambitious
collecting era of the Gilded Age, dominated by the collecting activities of the well-known
personalities of J.P. Morgan, Benjamin Altman, Henry Clay
Frick, the Huntingtons, the Wideners in
Philadelphia, Andrew Mellon and the Huntingtons and Isabella
Stewart Gardner in Boston. So our next stop on the Midwestern journey is actually Cincinnati,
where the Charles Tafts set the pace. They worked very very closely
with Charles F. Fowles of the firm of Scott and
Fowles in London and New York, and they assembled,
working with Mr. Fowles, a really remarkable collection
of Dutch old masters, including three paintings by Hauss, a marvelous portrait by Rembrandt, and a roster of other well known names. They also acquired a very fine grouping of British grand mannered portraits, fine representative collection
of Barber’s own paintings, very closely related
Hague School paintings, among other things. They only acquired one Flemish painting, in fact it’s sort of embarrassing, I’m not even going to show it today, it was acquired as a
full-length by Anthony van Dyck of the Genoese noblewoman, and it was recently determined that it was an outright forgery, so when Walter Lead could
catalog that collection, the painting certainly
did not pass muster. However, given the activity of the Tafts, working to bring seriously
important old master paintings into Cincinnati, they inspired
other local collectors, the most notable of which were two ladies, Mary Emery and Mary Hannah, and like the Tafts, these two women worked with Scott and Fowles, but not exclusively. They also bought from other dealers, but primarily in New York. Mary Emery set for herself
the more ambitious goals, I think than Mary Hannah, and acquired major works
of several European schools with the express intention of
providing important anchors throughout the European
paintings collection of the Cincinnati Art Museum, and the one Flemish
picture in her collection is this really quite splendid
“Portrait of a Man in Armor.” It has suffered from a
fairly ruthless cleaning, but it’s still a very very, it has a very powerful presence. So this was the one Flemish
picture which she acquired as part of her goal to buy these sort of great anchor paintings for the Cincinnati Art Museum, and as she intended, her bequest to the Cincinnati Art Museum in 1927 was truly transformative. Mary Hannah’s collection
lacked any Flemish paintings, although as we show here later, she once owned a very fine panel by David Teniers the Younger. Ruben’s splendid oil sketch
of “Samson and Delilah” was only acquired for the museum in 1972. Two important collectors in Cleveland, a brother and a sister as it turns out, also acquired a very important
old master in 19th century European paintings, and then
these are John Severance and his sister Elizabeth
Severance Prentiss, and they were both deeply committed to the Cleveland Museum of Art, which was established in 1916, and ironically, neither was interested in 17th century Flemish pictures. However, Elizabeth Prentiss
is a very nice segue to the third chapter of our overview, in which the museum trained connoisseur assumed the truly dominant role
in determining acquisitions, and a key transition will
figure in this respect was Professor Wolfgang Stechow, who was a professor at Oberlin College for many many years from the very end of the 1930s until his retirement, and his long career at
Oberlin College profoundly shaped the growth and the scope of the Allen Memorial Art Museum, which was a museum that
Elizabeth Prentiss, Severance Prentiss, also was a trustee of and a major supporter of, and that’s because her
first husband was the Allen of the Allen Art Museum,
but he died young. So as I remember of the Allen Art Museum’s Collections Committee,
Stechow was instrumental in recommending the
purchase of notable Dutch, Flemish, and Netherlandish
pictures for the museum, and his greatest coup, as
many of you in this room know, is acquiring the great ter Brugghen “Saint Irene Attending Saint Sebastian,” but he also played a significant role in the purchase of Flemish
paintings by artists such as Paul Bril, Joos de
Momper, Anthony van Dyck, Jacob Jordaens, Peter Paul
Rubens, and of course, the wonderful self-portrait
by Michiel Sweerts, and this is the example by Jordaens, it’s a very enigmatic subject, and like another Jordaens
that was shown earlier today, it is a painting that has undergone a very strange metamorphosis
by the artist himself with additional strips of canvas added to enlarge the composition. So Stechow, as I said, was
instrumental in adding really a surprisingly large
number of Flemish paintings to the Allen Memorial
Art Museum’s collection, but he also added the wonderful
and exceedingly rare print by Hercules Segers as well, which I just can’t resist mentioning. So meanwhile, back in Detroit, we come back to William
Valentiner once again, and he expanded the collection
of old master paintings at a very prodigious rate,
partly through acquisitions but critically, and this is a pattern which I think has gained enormous momentum in the course of time, it’s literally part of your job description
in this day and age, which is to cultivate collectors. I remember one of the trustees of the Minneapolis Institute of Art said the main job of the director
is to collect collectors, and he wasn’t kidding, so this is what Valentiner set out to do, and his first great patron
was Ralph Harmon Booth and later Estel, Allen, and Ford, but it also included the Edgar Whitcombs, and Mrs. Whitcomb was actually
James E. Scripp’s daughter, interestingly enough,
and Valentiner steered more than one collector to Rubens, and through these efforts,
the Detroit Instiute of Arts secured Rubens’s very poignant portrait which we’ve seen several times now. His portrait, posthumous
portrait of his brother Philip, and also the Whitcombs acquired this absolutely marvelous Rubens oil sketch, the representation of the
Trojan princess Briseis being returned to Achilles, so that Valentiner in essence
was advising these collectors to bring some extremely
important pictures to the museum, and of course much to the
lament of the curators of the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, this painting here is
the one that got away. They have all the other oil sketches for the Achilles series. These were actually
designs for tapestries, but this is the one that did get away and is now, very fortunately
for us, in Detroit. In other cities in the Midwest, civic art museums grew largely from gifts and bequests as well, and nowhere was this more evident than in the city of Indianapolis. Its relatively large collection
almost entirely evolved through the generosity of collectors including Mr. And Mrs. George Kluse. He was the lead scientist
for the Eli Lilly pharmaceutical company, and as a result, fewer than a third of the Dutch and Flemish
paintings in Indianapolis was outright purchases, with the result that the collection is somewhat
idiosyncratic in character. A similar situation evolved
at the Speed Art Museum in Louisville. It is wonderful to see the Van
Dyck portrait of a woman here in the exhibition from Louisville, and fortunately in the
case of both cities, their respective museums
boast having a fine oil sketch by Rubens, and so here you have
another Constantine subject, his triumphal entry into Rome at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, then this very beautiful
fetching oil sketch, the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament by the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, now in the Speed Art Museum. On a larger scale a rather
similar pattern applies to the Art Institute of Chicago. The vast majority of the Flemish paintings under the collection
as gifts and bequests, and one of these was a Martin Ryerson gift was this Adoration of
the Eucharist painting which is one of the most interesting, very quickly executed
sketches by Rubens in America. In more recent years, the Art Institute has purchased a small number of notable 17th century Dutch and Flemish paintings, including work by Abraham Janssens, and I show you this
“Jupiter Rebuked by Venus,” the early Jordaens
“Temptation of the Magdalene,” and again another very
fine Rubens oil sketch, “The Wedding of Pelus and Thetis.” For reasons unbeknownst to me, certain museums in the Midwest
have shown limited interest in the Flemish school, and notably, these do include the
Cleveland Museum of Art, which is as I said earlier
established in 1916, the Nelson Atkins Museum in Kansas City, and the St. Louis Art Museum. The Cleveland Museum of Art
purchased its sole Van Dyck in 1954, its one Jordaens
painting in 1979, and its three Rubens paintings
in 1947, 1959 and 1983 respectively. So this one large Van Dyck
is the one and only work by that artist in the Cleveland Museum, and likewise, the Nelson
Atkins Museum acquired this early work by Rubens,
“The Sacrifice of Isaac.” Various museums throughout the Midwest were shaped by the judicious use of their substantial acquisition funds, and here I’m thinking
of Dayton, Kansas City, Louisville, Minneapolis, and Toledo, and nowhere was this more true
than the Toledo Museum of Art during the long directorship
of Otto Wittmann, which commenced shortly
after World War II. His ambitions for the
museum seemed boundless, and the scale of Wittmann’s acquisitions was both considerable and constant. Although he showed a strong
preference for Dutch paintings, Wittmann nonetheless added major pictures by Jan Brueghel the
Elder, Anthony van Dyck, Jan Davidsz de Heem,
and the great crowning of Saint Catherine by
Rubens to the collection, and I just very quickly
show you these examples. We’ve seen this one obviously
several times already, and again, one has to
stress the monumentality of this picture, these
pictures are life sized. It’s the commanding presence
in the large gallery, the Toledo Museum of Art. A very fine relatively early
Jan Brueghel the Elder, Anthony van Dyck’s
portrait of a gentleman, and then finally a very
interesting Jan Davidsz de Heem, with the unusual feature of a little marine landscape vignette. Although operating in a smaller arena, the Dayton Art of Institute
has a surprisingly interesting and important collection
of Baroque paintings, including a number of extremely
good Flemish pictures, and distinguished among these
is Rubens’s truly electrifying “Sketches of a Bearded Man,” and the collection possesses
another male portrait given to Rubens, an
altarpiece by Jordaens, and very interesting works
done in collaboration with Hendrick van Balen in
the studio of Jan Brueghel, so this is a relatively small,
but very distinguished museum that certainly hits
considerably above its weight. The last museum I’m going to focus on is the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, which has a rather singular reputation amongst museums in the Midwest. It was established in 1915, so it was a relative late comer, and its collections grew slowly and in a rather conservative vein under the long directorship
of Russell Plimpton. To a certain degree, the adage
if it’s old it must be art seems to have applied
in the Plimpton years because the museum acquired
this enormous quantity of stuff. In any case, in the 1950s
when its deputy director Richard Davis succeeded Plimpton, the museum experienced
a radical sea change, and I think Davis felt his goal was to clean out the Augean Stables, and this is what he did, so he brought the museum
screaming and kicking into the 20th century
by focusing much energy into collecting European modernism with a special focus on
German expressionism, but he also bought great
Matisse paintings as well. He also wished to acquire a small number of choice European old master paintings, and in order to do so,
David embarked on a radical deaccessioning campaign,
and unfortunately, much of this was done
against his expertise. Moreover, he became
progressively more extreme in his willingness to
dispense with whole blocks of the collection in
European art especially, including the entire tapestry collection, like whoosh it’s gone, as well
as the one and only painting that the museum ever acquired from Duvin, “The Temptation of Christ” by Titian, and yet at this point, I
have to say fortunately the tapestries did not go out the door, but plenty else did,
the trustees recognized that the situation had gotten out of hand, and Davis was dismissed, and it effectively ruined his career, and for decades thereafter, the word deaccessioning was
a dirty word between cities. Yet to his credit, Davis
bought, with great flair, adding a select number of
masterpieces to the collection, the most celebrated of
which, of course, is Nicolas Poussin’s “Death of Germanicus.” He also bought Van Dyck’s large modelo, “The Betrayal of Christ,”
which you see here on the screen. One of the painter’s
most distinguished works in the United States. This work complemented
Ruben’s spirited oil sketch “The Crowning of the Prince of Wales,” or “The Union of England and Scotland,” which Plimpton to his credit
had acquired for the museum much much earlier, but I’m
just quickly going to go back to “The Betrayal of Christ,” since I’m still talking about it. So despite its unusually large size because this is really a very
large kind of a oil sketch, “The Betrayal of Christ” pales in scale, but not in energy, to Van
Dyck’s definitive versions of the subject in the
Prado Museum in Madrid and its smaller variant at Corsham Court. Oh, I’m sorry I’m going the wrong. I take the liberty of concluding by highlighting the fact
that museums in the Midwest continue to acquire Flemish paintings, perhaps not on a prodigious scale, certainly not that of of Otto Wittmann, but with discernment. For example, the DIA recently acquired a major early transitional work by David Teniers the Younger,
“The Boors’ Concert,” which you see here on the screen. This painting was actually
owned at one point by Mary Hannah. She felt uncomfortable,
maybe because it was Flemish, I don’t really know, but she
returned it to the dealer, and we were very fortunately
many decades later able to acquire it. The museum was also recently
given a magnificent still life by Frans Snyders, and by the same token, my colleague Larry Nichols
at the Toledo Museum of Art recently acquired the truly outstanding landscape with hay
makers by Joos de Momper. When in Minneapolis, I also
recommended the purchase of a powerful oil sketch
by Jacob Jordaens, “A Study of Two Male Heads,” which relates to the
artist’s large painting “The Apostle Peter
Finding the Tribute Money in the Fish’s Mouth,” the
so-called fairy of Antwerp, the fairy boat to
Antwerp that’s now in the Statens Museum in Copenhagen, and as an intriguing postscript, and I couldn’t resist doing this, I refer to Paul Bril’s
“Landscape with Golfers” in Minneapolis because when
I arrived in Minneapolis and began reorganizing the
museum’s curatorial files, I discovered much to my
surprise that this nice canvas, hardly a world masterpiece, had by far the thickest dossier of any
painting in the collection, so forget Rubens, Rembrandt,
El Greco, Poussin, this was the painting that
had the thicket dossier. Why? Because it’s one of the
first representations of the game of golf not
being played on ice. Golf historians and golf
aficionados from all over the world have written the MIA and
continue to write the MIA about this painting,
so it just goes to show that one never really
knows what may capture the popular imagination as one adds works to the museum’s collection. Thank you very much. (applause)

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