Treasures of British Art 14002000: The Berger Collection presents a rare opportunity to view one of the most important collections of British art in America. The paintings in this exhibition tell the complex history of Great Britain and how matters such as religious conflict, the rise and fall of the monarchy, industrialization, trade expansion, colonialism, and European influences shaped British artistic identity. With such a breadth of historical material and a diverse representation of subject matter, there is something for everyone to enjoy in this remarkable exhibition.
Treasures of British Art 14002000: The Berger Collection is organized by the Denver Art Museum. The exhibition is made possible by the Berger Collection Educational Trust. Treasures of British Art opened to the public at Joslyn Art Museum
on Saturday, June 2, and continues through Sunday, September 9.
The Berger Collection
Beginning in the mid-1990s, mutual fund financier William M.B. Berger and his wife, Bernadette, set out to assemble a collection of British art that would reflect the historical and cultural significance of Great Britain. In the course of three years, they amassed over 200 works dating from the mid-14th century to the present day, providing a remarkable survey of the development of art in Britain. In 1999, the Bergers created The Berger Collection Educational Trust and placed their vast collection on long-term loan to the Denver Art Museum (DAM), transforming the institution's holdings of European painting.
In recent months, the Trust has gifted 65 paintings from the collection to DAM. Treasures of British Art showcases 50 masterworks from this unique collection, many of them part of the gift to DAM, charting the course of British painting over six centuries. The diverse selection includes religious works, history paintings, portraiture, landscapes, and sporting scenes by both famous and less well-known artists, including Anthony van Dyck, Thomas Gainsborough, Benjamin West, Angelica Kauffman, John Singer Sargent, and James McNeill Whistler, among others. Selected highlights:
Already in the eighteenth century, increasing numbers of British artists traveled abroad to explore foreign landscapes and new subject matter. As part of the Grand Tour, Rome was the ultimate destination for artists seeking to experience the riches of antiquity and the Renaissance first hand. Over the course of the 19th century, rising imperialism and exploration resulted in travel to more distant locations such as the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia. Scottish artist David Roberts toured Spain, Morocco, Egypt, and the Near East, producing extensive topographical views of the locations he visited. He painted this landscape following a visit to Italy in 1853, the final stop on his travels before returning to London that same year. Although many of Roberts views are topographically correct, this image of St. Peters Basilica, in which much of the bustling city of Rome is omitted, is the result of the artists rich imagination.
From the 17th to 19th century, sporting scenes representations of rural pastimes like hunting, games, and horseraces were a distinguishing feature of British artistic identity. Horses became enormously popular among aristocratic sportsmen who commissioned portraits of their prized animals. Although largely self-taught, George Stubbs is considered one of Britains greatest horse painters for his ability to combine rigorous anatomical accuracy with sensitive observation of his subjects. This painting depicts a majestic bay hunter, an ideal horse for hunting across open country, standing before a gently receding landscape.
When Henry VIII broke with the Roman Catholic Church and established the Church of England in 1534, religious images that had once been regarded as instruments of devotion became suspect for their potential to be used as idols and were subsequently removed from churches and monasteries. Out of more than 30,000 lost altarpieces, this stunning panel is among the few to have survived the widespread destruction of such imagery during the English Reformation. This painting of Christs crucifixion is one of the most important objects in the Berger Collection and is currently the best-preserved religious panel painting of its period in existence. William M.B. Berger considered it the linchpin of his collection and faced fierce competition on the market when he purchased it in 1997.
When the patronage of religious art decreased dramatically because of the emergence of Protestantism, secular subject matter, including portraiture, increased in popularity among the royal court and aristocracy. Foreign artists with international reputations were most popular for such commissions and consequently immigrated to England to work for the crown, exercising enormous influence on the development of the visual arts in Britain. Flemish artist Anthony van Dyck arrived in London in the early 17th century and is credited with revolutionizing the British portrait tradition. As court painter to Charles I (reigned 1625 to 1649), Van Dyck portrayed his subjects with the elegance and virtuosity of Italian Renaissance painters, providing prestige and distinction to court culture of the period. In this work, the widowed Lady Dacre holds a double-headed rose that signifies both lost and future love in the fading and blooming blossoms.
The social and technological advances of the late 19th and early 20th centuries as well as two world wars compelled artists to address the complexities of the modern world, resulting in a profusion of artistic styles and expressive concerns. Influenced by French artistic achievements of the period, specifically the Neo-Impressionist technique known as pointillism, Claude Francis Barry focused on shimmering cityscapes illuminated by fireworks. This painting represents the celebration held in London on July 19, 1919, to commemorate the end of World War I. Employing small dots of color, Barry featured the spectacular fireworks display over the important London landmarks of Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, and Westminster Bridge.