For NCMA, a serendipitous and timely loan

Aug. 08, 2013 @ 02:18 PM

“Masterworks from the Chrysler Museum,” N.C. Museum of Art, 2110 Blue Ridge Road, Raleigh, through Feb. 2. Museum hours are Tuesday–Thursday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Saturday–Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For information, call 919-839-6262.

Most loans to museums are complicated affairs, but borrowing 10 major art objects from Norfolk, Va.’s, Chrysler Museum was, according to Curator of European Art David Steel, easy. It seems it was a matter of being in the right place at the right time, and for the next six months those of us who visit our museum can enjoy wonderful new art from the middle of the 18th century to the end of the 19th. 
The borrowed art has been embedded within our permanent collection next to paintings and sculpture from the same time period.  Steel walked me through the museum to see just where the objects had been placed. We stopped first at the Rodin gallery and the borrowed “Age of Bronze.” “Look back,” he said to me, “at our Greek sculpture.
It is the perfect transition between the time periods and so easy for anyone to understand Rodin and his classical background.” The “Age of Bronze” is a magnificent reproduction of the human male form, so perfect the artist was accused of using a body cast. This accusation caused a huge controversy and Rodin was vindicated; the notoriety and publicity won him the commission to create the “Gates of Hell.”  Also borrowed is a bust of Camille Claudel, the master’s muse and love, which sits next to another sculpture of her by Rodin.
In the 18th century galleries there are two bronze sculptures, each cast in one piece, by Francesco Bertos. They contain delicate figures that encircle the core of the piece; the themes are the allegories, “Painting and Music” and “Sculpture and Arithmetic/Architecture.” The technique Bertos used was so complicated the Inquisition demanded he appear in court; their charges questioned the ability of an ordinary human being to make such an object, and so he had to be in league with the Devil. Needless to say he was able to prove he had indeed created these sculptures.
As far as Steel is concerned, however, it is the gallery of the impressionists that has him ecstatic. He stood there and said in a half whisper, “I have dreamed of these paintings all on the same wall.” At one end is the Chrysler Degas “Dancer with Bouquets,”  1895-1900, and at the other, are Henri Fantin-Latour’s portrait of “Leon Maitre,” 1886, and Jules Joseph Lefebvre’s “Une Japonaise” (Language of the Fan), 1882. These three are the bookends for this beautiful melding of 19th century paintings from our museum with those from the Chrysler. 
On the walls between are the borrowed “Daughters of Durand Ruel,” 1885, by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Mary Cassatt’s “The Family,” 1893, and from our permanent collection, Degas’ “La Repos,” Lovell Harrison’s “Evening on the Seine” and some spectacular Monets. In this room Steel’s favorites seemed to be the “Maitre” portrait which he thinks is superb and Cassatt’s “Family” which, for him, is so much more than the sugary sweet domestic portraits for which she is most famous.
Charles Gleyre’s, “The Bath,” 1868, rounds out the package and is an example of one of the many salon painters who spurned the impressionists’ ideas.     
The story of the loan is one of serendipity. As Steel tells it, Dan Gottlieb, the North Carolina Museum of Art’s director of planning, design and museum park was at a museum conference in Philadelphia when he ran into Susan Leidy, deputy director of the Chrysler, and she told him of the plans to close for a year while extensive renovations would be made. Gottlieb came home and in the course of a conversation with Steel mentioned his exchange with Leidy. 
Steel immediately called Leidy and asked her what was going to happen to the objects when they closed down. She said they were just beginning to discuss it and he said, if you want to lend some of it out, could we borrow a few pieces? It turned out Steel was the first in line and had his choice of anything in their collection. “I didn’t want to seem greedy,” he said. “I know that collection really well and knew just what might fit perfectly with our things.” His proposal to the director to merge the Chrysler objects into the museum’s permanent collection meant there would be no charge. While there was no borrowing fee, insurance is a huge expense, but everyone agreed and the money was found and -- voila´--  the objects are here.
It is a privilege to have these additional art works on our walls for at least the next six months. They allow us to look at our own collection with new eyes and to realize how lucky we are to have such art in our back yard. The wall labels tell us about each of the borrowed pieces and give us information which makes them and the artists more accessible. For example, the Bertos sculptures were owned by Johann Von Der Schulenburg, who collected the contemporary art of his time. That information reminds us that the art we prize today as old and important was new and modern to collectors such as Schulenburg who took a chance on the artists of his day exactly as we do when we collect contemporary art.
Our impressionists have never looked better as they share the walls with the visitors.  Bear in mind that every artist of the late 19th century was not an impressionist and there were numbers of fine artists who never broke with the past. Fantin-Latour and Lefebvre are two outstanding examples, who were famous and had a lot to lose if they abandoned the salon for these new ideas. With our knowledge of the future from the vantage point of 100 plus years we know the impressionists were revolutionaries who changed art forever.  It is just one more piece of art history to think about when we visit our impressionists and the permanent collection.

Blue Greenberg’s column appears each week in Entertainment and More. She can be reached at blueg@bellsouth.net or by writing her in c/o The Herald-Sun, 2828 Pickett Road, Durham, NC 27705.