Donation of three paintings worth $12.1 million transform Ackland Art Museum's permanent collection

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Donation of three paintings worth $12.1 million transform Ackland Art Museum's permanent collection
Joan Mitchell (1925-1992), Untitled, 1962. Oil on canvas, 63 ¾ x 38 ⅛ in. (161.925 x 96.838 cm) Private collection © Estate of Joan Mitchell.

CHAPEL HILL, NC.- Jane Roughton Kearns, a longtime supporter of UNC-Chapel Hill and parent of three Carolina graduates, has bequeathed three paintings, valued at $12.1 million, to the Ackland Art Museum.

“We are grateful to Jane Roughton Kearns and her wonderful commitment to the Ackland,” said Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz. “Her gift underscores the importance of the arts to our campus, to our community and to each of us — particularly at a time when our cultural institutions are providing important inspiration and joy through new virtual channels.”

The Ackland’s permanent collection currently consists of more than 19,000 works of art, featuring North Carolina’s premier collections of Asian art and works on paper, as well as significant collections of European masterworks, 20th-century and contemporary art, and North Carolina pottery. The Ackland is the only public university art museum in the United States to own a collection of drawings by Rembrandt van Rijn.

The three paintings bequeathed to the Ackland — two by Joan Mitchell (1925-1992) and one by Milton Avery (1885-1965) — will be transformational for the Ackland’s permanent collection of postwar and contemporary American art.

“These remarkable works by American masters are emblematic of the best of American modernism and, importantly, fill gaps in the Ackland collection,” said Katie Ziglar, director of the Museum. “Grand paintings, with significant wall power, these paintings will enrich and enliven the University’s engagement with modern creativity, opening up questions about the role of abstraction and representation, the achievements of women artists, the relationship to tradition and so much else. We are so thankful to Jane for her great generosity and delighted to be receiving these paintings.”

Peter Nisbet, deputy director for curatorial affairs at the Ackland, said that the opportunity to add two major canvasses by Joan Mitchell, a leading member of the second generation of abstract expressionist artists, is tremendously important. “The Ackland will now be able to tell a fuller, more nuanced story about the history of modern avant-garde art and is especially pleased to be able to do so through the work of a leading artist.”

The Museum currently owns 10 works by Milton Avery, a key figure in American mid-century art. “These drawings, watercolors and oils cover every decade of his working life except for the 1950s, a lacuna now triumphantly filled by the promised gift of his lyrically beautiful landscape, Spring in New Hampshire,” Nisbet said.

“I am thrilled that these paintings will go to UNC-Chapel Hill and the Ackland,” shared Kearns. “Even though I didn’t graduate from UNC-Chapel Hill, I have a lot of loyalty for Carolina. My family has attended the University for generations, and I think it’s an exceptional public university.”

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