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Collector Jane Batten Donates Nine American Masterpieces to the Chrysler Museum of Art
Winslow Homer (American, 1836–1910), Farmer with a Pitchfork. Oil on board. Promised gift of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Batten. Image courtesy of the Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Va.

By: William J. Hennessey

NORFOLK, VA.- In addition to his extraordinary success as a businessman, civic leader, and philanthropist, the late Frank Batten, Sr. was also a distinguished art collector. Now, thanks to the generosity of Jane Batten, nine works from the Batten Collection have been placed on long-term loan to the Chrysler as promised gifts to the Museum. This winter the museum will present these American masterpieces by Winslow Homer, Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Hart Benton, William Glackens, and Edward Redfield, and others in a special second-floor installation.

Forty years ago Walter Chrysler, Jr. arrived in Norfolk. He brought with him one of the nation’s great private collections—over 30,000 works of art spanning the full history of human civilization. Chrysler’s gift to the Norfolk Museum of Arts and Sciences was transformational. The newly renamed Chrysler Museum was suddenly the home to an art collection of international importance. And over the past four decades we have worked to make that collection relevant and meaningful for our visitors, striving to build in our community a true sense of pride and ownership.

One important indicator of our success is the increasingly close partnership that has grown between the Museum and our region’s art collectors. In 1971 Walter Chrysler was virtually the only ambitious collector in Hampton Roads; today there are dozens. How did this happen? We like to think that the Museum has had something to do with this. The Chrysler’s own success in building and focusing our holdings allows us to set a good example. Our annual Mowbray Arch Society Art Purchase Dinner gives members of our community the chance to help us shape the Chrysler’s collection. And perhaps most important, our curators’ and conservators’ willingness to inform, advise, and encourage has emboldened regional collectors to search for the best—to bring great paintings, sculpture, glass, photographs, furniture, and prints from around the world to southeastern Virginia.

In many parts of the country close bonds between museums and collectors are a well established tradition. As a result of these warm and mutually productive relationships, many collectors have ensured that the art in their homes eventually found its way into the public galleries of their local museum. Happily this process is well underway here. For example, this month we will unveil a group of nine extraordinary American paintings—a promised gift to the Chrysler from Jane Batten and her late husband, Frank. The group includes works by Winslow Homer (one of which is pictured on this issue’s cover), Alfred Bierstadt, Thomas Hart Benton, Edward Redfield, and William Glackens. The Battens made this wonderful commitment because they understood that the satisfactions of collecting include not only the excitement of the chase to secure a great work of art, not only the subsequent pleasure of living with it. They recognized an opportunity to share this experience with others in their home community. The Battens’ pictures will significantly broaden and deepen the Museum’s presentation of our nation’s art in important ways. We hope that their generosity will also be an inspiration to others.

As you walk around our galleries during your next visit, I hope that you will take a moment to look not only at the works of art themselves, but at the labels that accompany them. Notice how many works have entered the Chrysler collection from regional collections or as result of the financial generosity of our neighbors. You will find powerful evidence of the special bond that exists between the Chrysler and our community.



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