Munson-Williams Museum of Art receives important bequest from Estate of James H. Duffy

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Munson-Williams Museum of Art receives important bequest from Estate of James H. Duffy
Howard Hodgkin, British (1932-2017), After Morandi, 1989-94. Oil on wood, 21 x 27 in. Bequest of James H. Duffy, 2019.11.15.

UTICA, NY.- Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute Museum of Art has received one of the largest bequests in its 101-year history, 72 paintings, works on paper, and sculptures from the estate of James H. Duffy (1934-2019).

Duffy was a resident of New York City from the late 1950s, but he was originally from Lowville, NY, 55 miles north of Utica. In July 2000, he sent a letter to (then) Munson-Williams Museum of Art Director Dr. Paul D. Schweizer stating, “One consideration I have had in mind is doing something for the area where I grew up. One thought was to donate my art collection to a regional institution.”

Munson-Williams President and CEO Anna D’Ambrosio commented, “Mr. Duffy's gift to the Museum of Art is transformational. He is an example of a selfless collector who saw the importance of giving back to his region. He valued the work of Munson-Williams and his generosity will benefit our community for generations.”

Duffy’s collection was eclectic and personal. He acquired works through auction and gallery purchases. Along the way, he developed friendships with painters such as Mark Innerst (born 1957), Katia Santibañez (born 1964), and James Siena (born 1957). “Mr. Duffy acquired works of art that he wanted to live with, every day, paintings and works on paper and small sculptures that were personally meaningful," said Mary Murray, Munson-Williams Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art.

This bequest is significant both in scale and in content. “There are important artists represented in this collection,” Murray said. The bequest has many works by artists already represented in the Munson-Williams collection, thereby adding depth to its holdings. Included are works on paper by Georges Braque (1882-1963), Alexander Calder (1898-1976), Helen Frankenthaler (1928 –2011), Alex Katz (born 1927), Malcolm Morley (1931-2018), Louise Nevelson (1899 –1988), and Pablo Picasso (1881-1973). Notably welcome additions to the collection are paintings by Jennifer Bartlett (born 1941), Jane Freilicher (1924-2014), and Howard Hodgkin (1932 –2017), artists for whom the Museum had previously held only intaglios and lithographs.

Of particular interest in the Duffy bequest are works by artists not previously represented in the Museum of Art collection, including Bryan Hunt (born 1947) and sculptor Dame Barbara Hepworth (1903-75). Also notable are drawings by Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-88) and Keith Haring (1959-90), whose meteoric rise as graffiti artists infused the 1980s with unbridled exuberance for life and art making.

Included also are drawings by Charles Addams (1912-88), Edward Koren (born 1935), and Charles Saxon (1920-88), all great illustrators for “New Yorker” magazine. These perfectly complement similar drawings by William Steig (1907-2003) and Saul Steinberg (1914-99) donated to the Museum in 1957 with the landmark Edward W. Root Bequest.

Duffy was educated at Princeton University and Harvard Law. From Harvard, he joined the New York City firm Cravath, Swaine, and Moore, becoming partner in 1968. Duffy was a Life Trustee of the New York Public Library, and his other memberships included the Council on Foreign Relations and the Boards of the Alliance for the Arts, Baryshnikov Arts Center, Commonweal Foundation and School of American Ballet. He also served on Mayor Edward Koch’s Advisory Committee for Cultural Affairs.

Murray said that there are currently plans to incorporate many of the works in future Munson-Williams exhibitions, and possibly a comprehensive exhibition honoring the gift.

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