from top left: Dominique and John de Menil, founders
of The Menil Collection. René Magritte,
Golconde, 1953, oil on canvas. Isabella
Stewart Gardner, founder of the Gardner Museum,
1888. John Singer Sargent, El Jaleo,
1882, oil on canvas.
Hickey-Robertson, Houston (top left),
courtesy of The Menil Collection, Houston (top
left and right). Bottom left and right: Courtesy
of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston.
from top: The Ideal City, circa 1480
- 84, oil on panel, attributed to Fra Carnevale
(Bartolomeo di Giovanni Corradini). William T.
Walters, 1894, and Henry Walters, 1930, whose
art collection became The Walters Art Museum.
John Singer Sargent, Fumée d'Ambre
Gris (Smoke of Ambergris), 1880, oil on canvas.
Sterling and Francine Clark at the Opening Day
of the Institute, May 17, 1955. Duncan Phillips,
founder of The Phillips Collection, circa 1915
– 20. Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Luncheon
of the Boating Party, 1880 – 81, oil
Clockwise from top: Courtesy of The Walters
Art Museum. Bachrach and Brothers, Baltimore (Courtesy
of Walters Art Museum Archives). J.H. Schaefer
and Son (Courtesy of Walters Art Museum Archives).
Courtesy of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art
Institute, Williamstown, MA. Courtesy of the Sterling
and Francine Clark Art Institute Archives. Courtesy
of The Phillips Collection (bottom left and center)
Sterling and Francine Clark
Jacques-Louis David, Bonaparte Crossing the Alps
at Grand-Saint-Bernard, 1800 - 1801, oil on canvas,
Musée National des Châteaux de Malmaison
et Bois-Préau, Rueil-Malmaison.
Winslow Homer, An October Day, 1889, watercolor
Renoir, Self-Portrait, circa 1875, oil on
1994 Michael Conforti has been director of the Sterling
and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown,
MA, where he has expanded research and academic programs
while overseeing exhibitions such as Jean-Francois
Millet: Drawn Into the Light (1999), Gustav
Klimt: Landscapes (2002) and Turner: The
Late Seascapes (2003). Noteworthy acquisitions
during his tenure include the pastel Boulevard
de Clichy by Camille Pissarro and the famous
Marquand grand piano designed by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema.
The Berkshire Conference of leaders in arts and business,
along with cultural collaborations such as 2002's
“Vienna Project” and the upcoming “American
Traditions,” are just a few of his other initiatives.
Dr. Conforti is currently overseeing the Clark's
expansion and landscape enhancement designed by Pritzker
Prize-winning architect Tadao Ando and landscape architects
Reed Hilderbrand Associates.
the 50th anniversary of its opening to the public,
the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute is a
result of its founders' lifelong passion for
collecting art. Robert Sterling Clark, heir to the
Singer Sewing Machine fortune, settled in Paris and
began collecting in 1911. He met Francine Clary there,
and they married in 1919. Following 45 years as private
collectors, the couple founded the museum. Its permanent
collection, rich in 19th-century French Impressionist
works, includes other European, Old Master and American
paintings. The Clark has continued to acquire over
the years, amassing 8,000 objects to date, including
495 paintings, decorative arts and works on paper.
The Clark: Celebrating
50 Years of Art in Nature
Through May 17, 2006
David: Empire to Exile
Through September 5, 2005
Homer: Making Art, Making History
October 9, 2005 - January 16, 2006
and Francine Clark Art Institute
What is the special appeal of the Clark?
It is a great collection of art in a rural and spectacular
site. It is also a center for research and ideas. The Clark
has become as much a center for research in the visual arts
as it is a presenter of special exhibitions. Along with
our rural and intimate qualities, we have the element of
the experiential: in the quality of the exhibitions, in
the research and in the academic programs. We organize a
variety of important exhibitions that travel to other institutions.
Currently we have an exhibition of Jacques-Louis David.
This is unusual for an organization of our scale. It contributes
to the specialness of who we are.
How did the David show come
Four or five years ago, we bought a late portrait by Jacques-Louis
David from the David family – The Comte de Turenne,
a portrait of the Count done in 1916. There had not been
a David show in the U.S. since the late 1940s and never
one devoted to his later work, so we wondered whether there
was something that needed to be said about this part of
his career. He is famous historically for what he contributed
to the beginnings of neoclassicism in the 1880s. He also
had a career after the revolution, of being almost a court
painter and so close to the emperor that he had to go into
exile. Critically it has received a high level of interest.
Not only is it a great visual experience, but a contribution
to scholarship around important themes and artists that
represent the history of the visual arts. This is why we
What is the focus for the
museum's fall show?
Sterling and Francine Clark's collection is notable
for its concentration of works by Winslow Homer, Renoir
(there are 35), John Singer Sargent and Monet, among others.
Sterling Clark bought his first Homer in 1915; at that time
he was also buying great European Old Master paintings.
For the museum's 50th anniversary we decided to focus
on some of the great holdings of the Clark. What we will
be looking at besides the great paintings and watercolors
is all of the lithographic work. Our well-known curator
of American art, Marc Simpson, is planning this show. It
is not only an appreciation of the great masterpieces of
painting but also a more focused examination of prints,
drawings and other works of art that are represented in
Can you talk about the Clark
Clark was very much an individualistic adventurer and explorer.
He was also a great art collector. We try to live up to
his sense of independence and we do it in some unconventional
ways. We are slightly opportunistic and always engaged in
what both the general and critical public need. We are very
aware of the ever-evolving external world of ideas around
art and the visual arts and what the public expects of art
museums. We try to find what our special contribution can
be through an understanding of the visuals around us in
the world of art.
What are your plans for expansion?
In the late 1990s we began a master plan that was articulated
through the work of Japanese architect Tadao Ando. We will
have small-scale, special-exhibition galleries in a wooden-and-glass
building with spectacular views of the mountains. A larger
scale building will serve as a center for visitors, conferences
and special-exhibitions and have a variety of other uses.
The plan is as much about landscape as
it is about building development. We have an extraordinary
campus of 140 acres. Because of the way our land is formed
people don't get to that landscape easily. At the
end of this process there will be an expanded system of
walking trails for all our visitors.
How engaged is the museum
with the community?
We are very geared to our community and the community-at-large.
We are the only museum that I know of with free busing to
any school that can come to Williamstown in a day –
and students come from two and three hours away. Also, we
will be sending 12 of our greatest Impressionist works to
smaller scale institutions around the country that don't
have the opportunity to see them – museums in the
South and Southwest, especially in New Orleans, San Antonio
and Phoenix. It is a way to extend our resources to other
communities and get more people to know about the Clark.
As part of the celebration
of the Clark's 50th anniversary, you recently polled
the public for their favorite works in the collection. What
was their first choice and what is your personal favorite?
My favorite is Renoir's Self-Portrait, which
almost looks like a Van Gogh self-portrait. It is so expressionistic
and so out of the realm of what one would ever expect. The
public's is the Fumée d'Ambre Gris
(Smoke of Ambergris) by John Singer Sargent, in which
a woman dressed in white with a veil over her head is absorbed
by the smell of ambergris. It is an amazing picture of white
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
The hanging nasturtiums annual courtyard garden display
at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.
Titian, Europa, circa 1575-1580, oil on canvas.
is the special appeal of the Gardner Museum?
Hawley has been director of the Isabella Stewart Gardner
Museum since 1989 and is its first female director.
Under her leadership the museum has launched innovative
programs such as the Artist-in-Residence program and
the Young Artist Showcase concert series. Previously,
Hawley was for 12 years executive director of the
Massachusetts Council on the Arts and Humanities where
she was instrumental in the passage of three new laws
supporting cultural life in Massachusetts. She holds
honorary doctorates from Williams College, Babson
College, Montserrat College of Art and Lesley College.
Opened in 1903, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
– a collection of fine and decorative art as
well as a vibrant, innovative venue for contemporary
artists, musicians and scholars – houses more
than 2,500 paintings, sculptures, tapestries, furniture,
manuscripts, rare books and decorative arts in a 15th-century
Venetian-style palace surrounded by a flowering courtyard.
Three stories of galleries contain works by Titian,
Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Raphael, Botticelli, Manet,
Degas, Whistler and Sargent. Founder Isabella Stewart
Gardner's vision of a museum that educates and
enriches the public continues to be reflected today
in every aspect of the museum.
Sol LeWitt and Paula
Variations on a Theme
September 23 – November 13
Bellini and the East
December 16, 2005 – March 26, 2006
Stewart Gardner Museum
The Gardner is a work of art in itself. The building, collection
and courtyard garden all fuse into an extraordinary experience
for the visitor.
Can you talk about the legacy of Isabella Stewart Gardner?
In many ways the museum is a story about what she learned,
what she valued. She had set it up so that you enter and
immediately are inside this very beautiful cloister with
a garden in front of you. It just awakens you to go to a
new place, experienced through the garden, art, music or
just sitting in the court. Mrs. Gardner was in her late
fifties when she started this project, going from a person
who might have pursued more conventional things to someone
enraptured with the possibilities of creative thinkers and
artists. She really made the support of them her life.
In 1912, she and the mayor of Boston,
Senator Kennedy's grandfather, co-chaired a benefit
here that featured Ruth St. Denis, the modern dancer. St.
Denis did the cobra dance in a very filmy short gown and
many emeralds. At that time, modern dance was stunning and
new. This is what we've been bringing back to the
museum in the last decade. There are always projects by
artists, scholars or performers here, true to the legacy.
In spite of the fact that the museum is a fixed collection,
the ideas coming off of it are new, vibrant and alive.
Describe your very successful
We just celebrated our 50th artist-in-residence this spring.
In the fall, the artist Sol LeWitt will be making an exhibition
in our gallery, and flutist Paula Robison will be playing
in it. It's a great collaboration. One of the things
we are working toward is “a program for creativity.”
We did a pilot this year called Chairs. The idea
is that you bring together artists and scholars from different
backgrounds, so that their minds might ignite each other
in some way, and you give them time to do a project. It
can become a very rich thing both for the artist and the
scholars. So many different kinds of creative people have
been supported here over the years – John Singer Sargent,
Henry James, Ruth St. Denis.
What are the challenges of
honoring Mrs. Gardner's legacy and vision as the museum
We have almost 100 people working here now with very few
places to put their desks. In order to preserve the museum
we have to leave this building. We are so lucky to have
Renzo Piano – who really understands the spirit of
this place and its character – to work with us to
design an addition behind the museum that will also be a
work of art but will bow to the palace. As Renzo describes
it, he is building the profane space for us while the palace
is the sacred space. We will have four more rooms in which
artists can work, orientation space for visitors, better
classroom spaces for kids, new greenhouses and a music hall.
The addition will be the way the intellectual juice can
continue to fuel the museum.
The exhibition with the National
Gallery in London sounds like an interesting project.
Gentile Bellini and the East is a loan exhibition
with the National Gallery that will illuminate a very important
period of Renaissance history that really hasn't been
looked at before, at least not in the West. The focus is
on the court of Mehmed II in Istanbul and the work done
there by artists, including The Gardner's beautiful
Gentile Bellini drawing from around 1479 called The
In addition to the permanent
collection, what are some of the shows the museum curates?
We create exhibitions and programs that spring from the
collection but blaze new territory. Our role is advancing
scholarship, artists and learning. We have five cornerstones
of programming – scholarship, artist programming,
horticulture, music and, of course, learning and education.
In each of these areas we attempt to take risks. For example,
our symposium on March 10 and 11 around the Bellini exhibition
is “Pirates, Pizza and Paintings – Mediterranean
Cultural Encounters.” A Princeton scholar is giving
a talk on pirates and traders in the Mediterranean, and
the author of the cookbook Essential Mediterranean
will speak on various techniques and dishes.
The courtyard garden is magnificent.
The garden is at the heart of the museum. We have greenhouses
and a gardening staff and grow our own plants. The garden's
design changes monthly, and the display that is the most
beloved is April's nasturtium and cineraria draped
from the balconies. We are also starting a monthly garden
lecture series – covering Italian, Japanese and Ottoman
garden design, among other topics.
What is your vision for the museum's future?
I hope that we will finish the building with great success
and that our programs can become established and solid.
Many are now grant-supported. And I always want our programming
to have an edge.
What is the one piece a visitor
should see and why?
Europa, which is Titian at his most powerful as
a painter. Mrs. Gardner felt personally so connected to
this work that she put the fabric of her favorite ball gown
beneath it. I like to think that she took off her gown and
hung it up beneath this picture and climbed into it. It
has become the stuff of legend.
The Menil Collection
Alexander Calder, Un Effet du Japonais, 1940,
sheet metal, wire and paint.
Entrance to the The Menil Collection.
Helfenstein has been director of The Menil Collection
since January 2004. The Swiss-born Helfenstein
received a Ph.D. from the University of Bern before
spending 17 years at the Kunstmuseum Bern, where
he served as associate director as well as chief
curator of the museum's Prints and Drawings
department and Paul Klee foundation. A renowned
expert on Paul Klee, Helfenstein has served as
project head of the nine-volume catalog raisonné
of the artist's work. Prior to coming to
the Menil, Helfenstein was director of the Krannert
Art Museum at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
opening in 1987, The Menil Collection has received
unanimous critical acclaim for both its extraordinary
art collection and the three intimate and beautifully
conceived buildings that house it. Located in
a residential neighborhood within Houston's
Museum District, The Menil houses the 15,000-piece
art collection of John and Dominique de Menil
– a culmination of more than 40 years of
collecting. The Menil's holdings are concentrated
within four areas – Antiquities; Byzantine
and Medieval; indigenous arts of Africa, Oceania
and the Pacific Northwest; and Modern and Contemporary
art. The museum is particularly known for its
Surrealist works, Byzantine icons, works by Cy
Twombly and key works by such major American artists
as Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns
and Michael Heizer. In addition to its famous
Renzo Piano-designed main building, the campus
includes the Piano-designed Cy Twombly Gallery,
the Rothko Chapel, the Byzantine Fresco Chapel
Museum and the Dan Flavin fluorescent-light installations
at the Richmond Hall Dan Flavin Installation.
Bill Traylor, William
Edmondson, and the Modernist Impulse
Through October 2
The Surreal Calder
September 30, 2005 – January 8, 2006
Gober: The Meat Wagon
October 28, 2005 - January 22, 2006
What is the special appeal and uniqueness of The Menil Collection?
The Menil is unlike any museum I know. Here, nothing comes
between the visitor and the work of art – the place
is purposefully designed to provide an unmediated experience
of art, a place to stimulate and deepen the act of seeing.
In this way, it is the “right brain” museum, with
less verbal clutter, no imposing interpretations by way of
wall text, audio guides, docent tours. Instead of presenting
a broad history of art, The Menil invites you to look deeply
into individual, luminous pools of art. The Menil strives
to present art in an ideal setting – quiet, tranquil
and with gentle, natural light. There are other wonderful
museums in the world for viewing art, but each relates to
its own place. The Menil is very comfortable in its Houston
neighborhood, an inner-city enclave of bungalows, green trees
and neighborly proportions – tucked away, a little hard
to find, but so worth the search! And, for all that, it is
also an international destination, as admired in European
cities and throughout the U.S. art world as it is in Houston.
In this sense it is very local but at the same time very global.
Can you talk about the de Menil legacy and how it has inspired
you personally? What are the challenges of honoring that legacy
and vision as the museum grows?
The Menil is inseparable from its founders, John and Dominique
de Menil, who helped bring modern thinking – Modernism
– to this part of the world. They did that via art and
architecture, and in their dedication to human rights. Houston
became their home and they gave their adopted city –
and the world – this great civic treasure. The de Menils
also left us a clear set of core values that derive from their
understanding of art and the human spirit. This legacy of
values will help guide us now as we move with The Menil into
the 21st century.
Under your direction The Menil Collection continues to present
thought-provoking exhibitions that provide new insights into
an artist's work. Can you discuss your upcoming shows
The Surreal Calder and Klee and America and
explain the issues they will explore? How do the special exhibitions
complement and contextualize aspects of the permanent collection?
While The Menil is well known for organizing and presenting
superb exhibitions, it is fair to say that these shows often
diverge from the familiar museum show. Often The Menil is
“the path less traveled” and, as Frost added,
“that has made all the difference.” So we tend
to eschew the well-trod paths of your typical big retrospective
or theme shows and instead present artists who are great,
but not household names, or we present lesser known and surprising
aspects of an artist's work. Thus we have the Calder
and Klee exhibitions. In the former we are showing an aspect
of Calder that has been pretty well ignored – his early
deep immersion in Surrealism and its lively influence on his
art. Your typical Surrealism show never mentions Calder; your
typical Calder show never mentions Surrealism and yet both
are very important to each other. Similarly, the Klee exhibition
examines the important but little known story of how Klee
came to be accepted and prized in America – a story
that in its way epitomizes the acceptance of European Modernism
on these shores. Clearly each of these shows also complements
The Menil permanent collection, and its deep concerns with
Surrealism and Modernism. Indeed this practice of making connections
is deepy woven into the permanent collection itself. As Modernists,
the de Menils perceived deep connections seeing the ancient
in the modern, the modern in the ancient. What is more “modern”
than a Cycladic figure, especially when viewed with, for example,
a Giacometti? Or a Max Ernst human-animal figure such as Capricorn
in dialogue with an ancestor figure or mask from Zaire, Nigeria
or Cameroon in our African galleries? Our special thematic
or monographic exhibitions do not exist in vacuums, but deepen
our understanding of the Menil holdings across the millennia.
The works are never displayed in a cluttered
or an overwhelming way; works of art – and our visitors
– can breathe here. And so we perhaps make it more possible
for the viewer to see and make these connections, to see an
artist's work in a different, perhaps even new, way.
In 2004 the museum acquired an important silkscreen painting
by Robert Rauschenberg (Glider), significantly enhancing
your Rauschenberg collection. In what other areas are you
looking to add to the museum's collection? What is your
vision for The Menil Collection over the next five to ten
years? Are there plans for expansion?
The Menil is in the midst of an exciting long-range planning
process in which we will address many of these issues. There
is a strong feeling that we should use the permanent collection
as a point of departure in collecting both contemporary art
and art from other cultures and eras. Certainly we will continue
the de Menil commitment to the art of our times and to working
with certain artists on a sustained and deep level. Whatever
additions to the campus are made over the coming years, it
will be imperative that they be superb works of architecture
that succeed in being consonant with the scale and character
of the Piano building and The Menil neighborhood.
What is the one work of art you would suggest a visitor see
Most people who know The Menil would say that, however wonderful
they find individual works in the collection, it is the cumulative
experience of the museum collections, the campus, the diverse
art sites, the parks and the outdoor sculptures that bring
them back time and again. As many have observed, at the heart
of The Menil Collection there is a quiet but evident conversation
between works of art both within and among generations, centuries
The Phillips Collection
Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas, Melancholy, circa
1874, oil on canvas.
Sean Scully, Wall of Light Dark Orange, 2001,
oil on canvas.
Gates has spent more than 30 years in the museum world.
He has been director of the Brooks Memorial Art Gallery
in Memphis, the Spencer Museum of Art in Lawrence, KS,
the Seattle Museum of Art and the Dallas Museum of Art.
Since 1998, Gates has been director of The Phillips
Collection. He is a member and former trustee of the
Association of Art Museum Directors and sits on the
District of Columbia Commission on Arts and Humanities.
Phillips Collection, America's first museum of
modern art, opened in 1921 in the exquisite Georgian
Revival home of Duncan Phillips (1886 - 1966). Phillips,
heir to the Jones and Laughlin steel fortune, spent
more than 50 years assembling over 2,500 European and
American works of art. The collection is justly celebrated
for outstanding Impressionist paintings by Renoir, Van
Gogh, Monet, Degas and Cézanne, as well as exceptional
American works by O'Keeffe, Dove, Rothko and Diebenkorn.
A major addition and renovation project will be completed
at the end of this year, providing enhanced facilities
for visitors, students and educators.
Meets West: Hiroshige
at The Phillips Collection
June 25 – September 4
Sean Scully: Wall of Light
October 22, 2005 – January 8, 2006
February 18 – May 14, 2006
The Phillips Collection
What is special about The Phillips
The quality of the collection and the intimate residential
circumstances in which it is presented. Duncan Phillips made
a decision early on to create a collection of modern art and
to install it not in a conventional museum building but in
a home. Then people could linger with works of art in comfortable
surroundings – an experience he described as “life
enhancing and joy giving.”
Can you talk about the legacy
of Duncan Phillips?
The Phillips Collection finds its roots in Duncan Phillips's
personal experience. He was very much the child of privilege
in a close, devoted family. In 1917 and 1918 he lost his father
to old age and his older brother to the great influenza epidemic.
As a result, he felt himself virtually an orphan and wondered
whether his life would be overwhelmed by despair. He found
ultimately that he could put the pieces back together in the
presence of beautiful pictures, and decided that he would
create a collection in memory of his father and brother.
From his late twenties on he focused on
amassing a collection that could be shaped over the years
by a particular set of eyes in a place that had a sense of
visual organization. The museum doesn't seek to be comprehensive
in reflecting other times and places – it's modern
art with a vision that was Phillips's. When he decided
to do this, there was no Museum of Modern Art in New York
City, no National Gallery on the Mall in Washington, DC. The
histories of modern art had not been written yet, the university
departments of art history in the U.S. didn't exist.
What he was doing was essentially pioneer work.
The choices that he made were remarkably
prescient. He is known best for the great French pictures
that he bought. As a result the much beloved icon of the collection
– Luncheon of the Boating Party – probably
stands for the museum in the public's mind. But, in
fact, the majority of the pictures that he bought were only
a year or two old and painted by living American artists.
If he had never done anything but collect the works of Renoir,
Degas, Van Gogh and Cézanne he would deservedly be
recognized as a great collector. But he went beyond this –
The Phillips Collection is the first museum to collect Georgia
O'Keeffe and Milton Avery.
Do you have an anecdote about
In the 1950s, the art critic Hilton Kramer had come to learn
of a French painter recently deceased by the name of Pierre
Bonnard. Bonnard was not well represented in the collections
in New York, but was extraordinarily well represented here.
Phillips had regarded Bonnard as one of the great painters
of his generation and collected 31 examples of his work. Kramer
came here prepared to immerse himself in the visual language
of Bonnard but couldn't find a single picture. Delighted
by what he saw otherwise and greatly impressed with the collection,
he harassed the staff about seeing the work of Bonnard, without
much success. But just as he was leaving, a limousine pulled
up and an angular old gent unfolded himself out of the backseat.
There wasn't much question as to who he was. Hilton
looked at Phillips and said, “I'm a great admirer
of what you've done. I came all the way from New York
to see the paintings by Bonnard, but there is nothing on view.”
Phillips said, “Well, young man, that's because
the Bonnards are in my dining room – why don't
you come to lunch?” So they drove to the Phillips house.
The Bonnards were lining the sides of the dining room and,
at the end, was the great Braque Gueridon tabletop
are the challenges of honoring his legacy?
We have to make sure that the museum addition we have embarked
upon in no way disrupts the kind of experience that Phillips
wanted people to have. But there are certain things that museums
need to be able to do that cannot be done in wonderful houses
built in 1898. Such homes don't allow for libraries,
an auditorium, classrooms or extensive storage. We are the
exception to the rule in museum expansions. Ours is not about
redesigning the museum. It is about pursuing the mission in
a way that is completely consistent with the kind of life-enhancing
experience we talked about earlier.
What are some upcoming exhibitions?
In October we will open Sean Scully: Wall of Light,
which will close at the Metropolitan Museum. In February we
are sharing an exhibition with the Tate that is going to be
visually delicious – Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec, and
their British Circles – bringing together French
and British artists from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Can you describe your vision
for the museum's future?
The intellectual mission of The Phillips Collection has so
much to do with the way the collection is shown, the way the
museum remains small but educationally very influential. The
museum is heavily engaged in teacher training and interactive
teaching materials. The Phillips will always be small, but
its influence can be very great.
is your favorite piece in the collection?
I tend to find myself standing in front of smaller works of
art – Delacroix's Paganini, Ingres's
Small Bather and Degas's Melancholy.
I guess I'd pick the Degas. I have a huge admiration
of what the artist is capable of producing on such a small
scale and in such an economic range of colors and tones.
The Walters Art Museum
The Chamber of Wonders in the new Galleries of Renaissance
and Baroque Arts at The Walters Art Museum.
Hugo van der Goes, Donor with St. John the Baptist,
circa 1475 - 80, oil on panel.
Vikan was named director of The Walters Art Museum
in 1994 after serving as its assistant director
for curatorial affairs and curator of medieval
art since 1985. Before coming to The Walters,
Dr. Vikan was senior associate for Byzantine art
studies at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, DC. He
is an internationally known scholar of medieval
art and has curated some of the most significant
exhibitions in the history of The Walters. Dr.
Vikan has overseen the reinstallation of the museum's
ancient and medieval collections and will now
inaugurate the museum's reinstallation of
its Renaissance and Baroque collections. He has
been honored with Knighthood in the Order of Arts
and Letters by the French government.
Located in Baltimore's historic Mount Vernon
Cultural District, The Walters Art Museum, which
opened to the public in 1909, presents an overview
of world art amassed by father and son William
and Henry Walters. Included in the museum's
permanent collection are ancient art, medieval
art and manuscripts, decorative objects, Asian
art and Old Master and 19th-century paintings.
In October The Walters will celebrate the 100th
anniversary of its original palazzo building with
the reinstallation of more than 1,500 objects.
Palace of Wonders:
The New Galleries of Renaissance and Baroque Art
October 22, 2005. Permanent Exhibition
Art and City Life: The Glory of Medieval Novgorod
November 19, 2005 – February 12, 2006
Walters Art Museum
is the special appeal of The Walters Museum?
Here we are with 55 centuries of art covering all the major
cultures, including the ancient Americas, going as far as
Armenia and the Far East. So we are like a little Met. But
at the same time we are very individual and our scale is very
William T. Walters, who made his own money
by starting a railroad, began collecting in the 1850s. He
bought mostly Academic 19th-century French painting –
he didn't like the Impressionists, but he loved Daumier,
Delacroix and the Barbizon school. He also went to the great
international expositions of the arts of Asia and put together
7,000 works of the arts of China and Japan – mostly
ceramics, lacquers and bronzes.
His son, Henry, was born in 1848 and started
to collect only when his father died in 1894. Henry Walters
expanded the collection to 22,000 works of art. He had a strong
sense of the tactile, the intimate, the well made and the
beautifully crafted. So watches and clocks ranked every bit
as high for him as did Old Master paintings – which
means that the collection is very broad not only in its historical
breadth but also in its range of media and materials. We have
the earliest dated portable watch in the world and the second
largest collection of illuminated manuscripts of any institution
in the U.S. after the Morgan Library. Henry Walters collected
almost until the day he died in 1931, willing his collection
to the city of Baltimore.
What is the challenge of honoring
their legacy as the museum grows?
How do you make this wonderful historically based collection
with great subcollections of Egyptian, Greek and Roman art
– medieval art from the Greek and Latin world and the
second largest collection of early Italian panel painting
in the country after the Met – meaningful in a city,
state and region that has changed so much since the collection
was formed nearly 100 years ago? It's a constant challenge
– typical of older museums – to address social
responsibilities within cities like Baltimore. It has not
been an easy ride for years in this city. But the challenge
adds energy and commitment to the entire staff.
the fall, the museum celebrates the 100th anniversary of its
groundbreaking with the reinstallation of the Renaissance
and Baroque collections.
We are trying to give a sense of the historical flavor of
the collection – what it was like actually to be in
that place and to experience that thing in a way that was
consistent with its time. So we wanted to create a total sense
The Palace of Wonders is way over the top
– we are recreating a cabinet of wonders. We have a
12-foot alligator, rattlesnake, pre-Columbia art, Asian art
– all the things that a wealthy intellectual collector
of around 1650 would want to have around for contemplation,
exploration of the world, research and enlightenment. No other
museum in this country or the world has done this.
How do you want to expand the
museum's collections and why?
One area we've grown in very significantly is in the
arts of medieval Ethiopia. Ten years ago we started to put
together the finest Ethiopian collection outside Ethiopia.
Ethiopian medieval art is a creative genius onto itself, belonging
to the Orthodox Christian spirit. It's a very early,
long and continuous cultural tradition. In some respects it
looks a little like Italian or Byzantine icon painting. But
there is a vibrancy, color and sense of drama that is absolutely
I love to bring a whole new culture to
the attention of the museum community and integrate it physically
and intellectually within a Gothic and Romanesque art of the
West and Byzantine art of the east. But this is also very
meaningful in a city with as heavy an African-American population
as Baltimore has. Many of the churches are decorated with
motifs and figures drawn from historical Ethiopian art.
What is your vision for the
museum in the next five to ten years?
We need to be better and more creative at connecting to our
own state. Maryland, which is very strong and growing, has
changed enormously since Henry Walters died. At that time
Montgomery County – just north and west of Washington
DC – was pastureland. Now it is the largest county in
the state. We need to serve and be nourished by the state.
I certainly hope we have an addition – we need more
space for our programs and collections. Even more basic than
that is just broadening our base of support and engagement.
We are a collection, we are collectors,
we are a city and a neighborhood within that city –
Mount Vernon Place. When you add Mount Vernon to The Walters
you've got a mix that is quite distinctive.
Which work of art should a visitor
Donor with St. John the Baptist by Hugo van der Goes,
a brilliant Flemish painter of the second half of the 15th
century, is worth some quiet looking. Van der Goes brought
a realism not only to how the face looks – you can practically
sense the stubble of the beard of this person being portrayed
– but almost to what's in his mind. What makes
this painting so wonderful is that very few of his paintings
survived, and very few outside of Bruges.
Image 1: Courtesy of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute,
Williamstown, MA, Image 2: © Réunion des Musées
Nationaux/Art Resource, New York: photo Daniel Arnaudet; Image
3 and 4: Courtesy of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute,
Williamstown, MA; Image 5,6 and 7: Courtesy of Isabella Stewart
Gardner Museum, Boston; Image 8: George Hixson, Houston, Courtesy
of The Menil Collection, Houston; Image 9: Courtesy of the
Calder Foundation, New York; Image 10: Hickey-Robertson, Houston;
Image 11: © Carol Pratt, 2005; Image 12: Courtesy of
The Phillips Collection; Image 13: Courtesy of the Metropolitan
Museum of Art; Image 14: Matthew Septimus; Image 15: Patrick
O'Brien; Image 16: Courtesy of The Walters Art Museum.