New York investment broker Chester Dale's 1962 bequest made the National Gallery of Art
one of the leading repositories in North America of French art of the late-19th and early 20th centuries. From Impressionism to Modernism: The Chester Dale Collection, on view in the Gallery's West Building from January 31, 2010 through July 31, 2011, will bring together 81 of the finest French and American paintings that Dale and his wife Maud, an artist and critic, assembled from the 1920s through the 1950s.
The exhibition and its accompanying book will explore the Dales' passion and talent for acquiring great art. Many of the works in the show are among the most renowned masterpieces in the history of art, but due to a stipulation in the bequest, may only be seen at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.
"It is impossible to overestimate the transformative impact of the collection of Chester Dale and his wife Maud on the National Gallery of Art," said Earl A. Powell III, director. "Their legacy has not only enriched the Gallery but the nation as well, by sharing these extraordinary works of French and American art with the American public and the world."Exhibition Organization and Highlights
From Impressionism to Modernism: The Chester Dale Collection coincides with the Gallery's renovation of the northeast Main Floor galleries, where many of the Dale works are usually displayed chronologically and by artist. The exhibition in the Ground Floor central galleries, however, will be organized thematically for the first timea nod to the exhibitions dedicated to still lifes, portraiture, and other subjects that Maud Dale arranged in New York City during the late 1920s and early 1930s. Viewing the works through the lens of these themes provides a fresh look at the scope of the Dales' collection.
The first gallery showcases key works by some of the Dales' favorite artists: Henri Matisse's The Plumed Hat (1919)his first major purchase of French modern artAuguste Renoir's A Girl with a Watering Can (1876), Vincent van Gogh's Girl in White (1890), and Amedeo Modigliani's Gypsy Woman with Baby (1919). A section displaying paintings of women includes portraits by Renoir, Mary Cassatt, Edgar Degas, and Pablo Picasso, as well as nudes and studies of the female form by Renoir, Cassatt, Matisse, and Gustave Courbet. Portraits of men are also featured, with works by Degas, Picasso, Paul Cézanne, and Edouard Vuillard.
A room devoted to landscapes and cityscapes includes two of Claude Monet's celebrated views of Rouen Cathedral (1894), George Bellows' Blue Morning (1909), Eugène Boudin's The Beach at Villerville (1864), and Robert Henri's Snow in New York (1902). Another room is dedicated to the genre of still lifes, with examples by Cézanne, Matisse, Georges Braque, and Henri Fantin-Latour.
The centerpiece of a gallery devoted to the idea of "monumental modernity" is the rich pairing of two large-scale works by two of the art world's major figures: Edouard Manet's The Old Musician (1862) is hung opposite Picasso's Family of Saltimbanques (1905). The synergy in subject and composition between these two masterworks creates a dramatic pairing. The room also features Paul Gauguin's Self-Portrait (1889), Van Gogh's La Mousmé (1888), and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec's A Corner of the Moulin de la Galette (1892).
Rounding out the exhibition are portraits of the collectors themselves, by four of the key artists whose work they championed. Chester Dale is painted by Salvador Dalí and Diego Rivera; while Maud is depicted by George Bellows and Fernand Léger.
A new 15-minute documentary film profiling Chester and Maud, produced by the National Gallery of Art on the occasion of this exhibition, will be shown continually in the galleries, along with informational text about the Dales and a chronology of their collection.
A selection of books from the Chester Dale Collection and related documentary material from the Gallery Archives will be installed in Gallery G-21 of the West Building. Additional works of art from the Chester Dale collection on display throughout the East and West Building galleries will be identified by a special icon for visitors who wish to explore this collection further.
Chester Dale and the National Gallery of Art
An astute businessman who made his fortune on Wall Street in the bond market, Dale thrived on forging deals and translated much of this energy and talent into building his art collection. His purchases were guided by his personal tastes as well as by his wife Maud. Initially the couple began collecting American paintings; among their favorite artists was their neighbor, George Bellows, who painted portraits of both of them.
By 1925, Maud had begun to steer Dale towards French art, and it was at her urging that he concentrated his collecting in the area of French art from the time of the Revolution to the present, together with earlier artists whom she called "ancestors." They purchased many works on regular trips to Europe after World War I. Dale often commented that he had the inquisitiveness and Maud had the knowledge. Even after Chester Dale became a partner in the Galerie Georges Petit in Paris in the late 1920s, Maud continued to advise and direct their acquisitions. Dale continued to make remarkable purchases in the early years of the Great Depression. Although he curtailed his activity by the mid-1930s, Dale added outstanding examples of both French and American art to his already spectacular collection in the years that followed. Maud Dale died in 1953. On May 27 of the following year, the 71-year-old Dale married his late wife's longtime secretary, Mary Towar Bullard.
Dale served on several museums' boards of trustees during his lifetime, starting with The Museum of Modern Art in 1929, the year it opened, and remaining in the post until 1931. In 1943 he became a trustee for three other museums: the Art Institute of Chicago (until 1952), the Philadelphia Museum of Art (until 1956), and the National Gallery of Art.
For Dale, the nascent National Gallery of Art offered the rare opportunity to put his mark on a major international institution, becoming a founding benefactor rather than one of many donors competing for wall space. In 1941 Chester Dale loaned seven American paintings for the dedication of the National Gallery of Art and later in the year added 25 of his most important French paintings selected to illustrate the development of French art. Further loans would follow. Dale made his first gift to the National Gallery in 1942, donating three old master paintings. This was followed by two substantial gifts in 1943: one comprising eight American canvases; the other, 11 of his greatest old master works, including paintings by El Greco and François Boucher. Dale would donate an additional 14 works to the Gallery during his lifetime, including three paintings by Bellows and the first work by Monet to enter the museum's collection.
These gifts, combined with loans already in place, seemed to make the National Gallery of Art the obvious candidate to receive Dale's collection; but he continued to make substantial loans to other museums, with large segments of his collection lent to both Chicago and Philadelphia in the 1940s. Nonetheless, in 1951 and 1952, Dale recalled these works, lending them instead to the National Gallery. At his death in 1962 he bequeathed to the Gallery the core of his still-substantial collection of modern art, comprising 223 paintings, seven sculptures, and 23 works on paperamong the single most valuable gifts ever given to the National Gallery. Subsequently, 17 works were donated by Dale's estate, bringing the total number of works in the Chester Dale Collection to 306.
As a result of Dale's generosity, the Gallery's permanent holdings of 19th-century French paintings nearly tripled in size. "It's not just the backbone," the former Gallery director John Walker is reputed to have said, but "the whole rib structure of the modern French school here." In addition to shaping the Gallery through the donation of his collection, Dale also served as president of the National Gallery from 1955 until his death.