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New Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art Opens Today
The Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. View toward original Scott Gallery. Credit: The Huntington.

SAN MARINO, CA.- The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens will open the new Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art on May 30, 2009, to reveal a completely transformed space in which its growing American art collection will be displayed in an area more than twice its previous size. With 16,379 square feet of reconfigured and redesigned galleries, the new space—comprising the Virginia Steele Scott Gallery, the previous home of The Huntington’s American art collection; and the Lois and Robert F. Erburu Gallery, which previously displayed European works—will be one of the largest presentations in Southern California of American art from the colonial period through themid-20th century.

“The Huntington’s commitment to the collection and interpretation of American art is deep-rooted, dating back to Henry Huntington himself, whose American art acquisitions enhanced his collection of American literary manuscripts,” said Steven S. Koblik, president of The Huntington. “The opening of these expanded galleries will be an impressive expression of that initial vision and will make an increasingly important collection magnificently accessible to the public.”

Begun in 1979, when the Virginia Steele Scott Foundation made a major gift to The Huntington that included a group of 50 American paintings, The Huntington’s American art collection since has grown to about 9,400 objects, including paintings, sculpture, decorative art, drawings, prints, and photographs. Some of the most prominent works in the collection are the paintings The Meeting of Lear and Cordelia (1784) by Benjamin West (1738¬1820), Chimborazo (1864) by Frederic Edwin Church (1826¬1900), Breakfast in Bed (1897) by Mary Cassatt (1844–1926), The Long Leg (ca. 1935) by Edward Hopper (1882¬1967), and the recently acquired Free Floating Clouds (1980) by Samuel L. “Sam” Francis (1923–1994), as well as a group of seminal photographs by Edward Weston (1886–1958), and Zenobia in Chains (1859), a monumental sculpture by Harriet Hosmer (1830–1908) that will be on public view for the first time in nearly a century.

The $1.6million redesign and reinstallation project involved combining the Virginia Steele Scott Gallery, designed by Paul Gray of Gray and Gray Architects, Montecito, Calif., and completed in 1984; and the Erburu Gallery, designed by Frederick Fisher of Frederick Fisher and Partners Architects, Los Angeles, and completed in 2005. The process of reinstalling the galleries began in May 2008, when the Erburu Gallery was emptied of the highlights of the European art collection it had displayed while the Huntington Art Gallery, the historic home of Henry E. Huntington, underwent a major renovation and reinstallation.

“This project is the culmination of an idea that began when the Erburu Gallery was conceived,” explains John Murdoch, Hannah and Russel Kully Director of Art Collections at The Huntington. “Now Frederick Fisher’s modern classical wing will join the neoclassical Scott Gallery and fulfill its role as the new home of our American art collections.

Together, the galleries sit beautifully in the Huntington landscape, inviting views of the mountains and gardens from the glass loggia and helping to develop a sense of interplay between the works of art inside and the gardens outside.”

Interpretive Scheme: The new Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art will consist of 15 galleries of chronologically organized displays featuring special thematic groupings. Paintings, sculpture, and works on paper will be installed beside representative examples of the decorative arts, including furniture, glass, silver, and ceramics.

“The collection had grown to a point where we could form some very interesting groupings and place works within a broad historic and cultural context—if we only had the space,” said Jessica Todd Smith, Virginia Steele Scott Curator of American Art and organizer of the project. “Now we are able to contextualize creatively and illuminate the history of American art. The resulting installation reflects The Huntington’s long-standing commitment to education, research, and scholarship and, I hope, will delight our visitors.”

Multiple themes are explored throughout the installation. Among the subjects investigated are regional patterns of style and use; objects as reflections of cultural practice and tradition; trans-Atlantic exchanges of artistic ideas; realism; abstraction; and genres of painting such as portraiture, landscape, still life, and scenes of everyday life.

The Huntington will offer a free audio guide of the new installation featuring interviews with curators, collectors, and other experts in the field.

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