February 22, 1947
The Brooklyn Museum celebrated fifty years at its present location at the opening of an exhibition of RECENT ACCESSIONS to the Museum Collection. A private preview and reception was held on February 21 for Museum members and invited guests. The exhibition includes recently acquired objects from every department of the Museum, and will remain on view in the Entrance Hall and Special Exhibition Gallery until April 6. A short address was made by Mr. Adrian Van Sinderen, President of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences.
Special attention is called to the fact that the exhibition will be opened to the public on February 22, Washington’s Birthday, when the large portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart (which is described in more detail under Paintings and Sculpture) will be shown for the first time since it was purchased by the Museum.
Press preview Tuesday, February 18 (9 A.M. to 5 P.M.)
Photographs on request.
Information on the most important accessions follow under the headings of the various departments.
PAINTINGS AND SCULPTURE
One of the most important acquisitions ever made by the Museum in the field of American art is the purchase of the full length standing portrait of George Washington painted by Gilbert Stuart at Philadelphia in 1796. Long associated with Brooklyn, the picture was commissioned by William Kerin Constable of New York, from whose son it passed to the latter’s brother-in-law, Hezekiah Beers Pierrepon (1768-1838) of Brooklyn. It has remained in the Pierrepont family until its recent purchase by the Museum.
Among the recollections of Mrs. Hezekiah Beers Pierrepont is a description of how the portrait came to be painted. “After our return from England in 1795,” she wrote, “my father went to Philadelphia, and, at the request of his mother, engaged Gilbert Stuart to take his likeness for his family. Gilbert Stuart was, at the time of my father’s visit (1796), painting a full length portrait of Washington for Mr. Bingham, who presented it to the Marquis of Lansdowne. My father was so much pleased with it that he engaged Stuart to paint one for him at the same time as the General was giving him sittings. Stuart, who was well acquainted with my father, promised both portraits should be worked upon alternately, so that both should be originals.”
The first engraving of this full length portrait of Washington was published by James Heath of London in 1800 with the inscription, “from the original picture in the Collection of the Marquis of Lansdowne.” Known therefore as the “Lansdowne Type”, this group of portraits was the second which Stuart did of Washington from life. The first, or “Vaughan Type”, was painted in Philadelphia a year earlier. The Lansdowne Type was felt by many, however, to be the better likeness Tuckerman reports of the version now owned by the Museum that “....when Lafayette visited this country in 1824, upon entering Mr. Pierrepont’s drawing-room on Brooklyn Heights, where the picture hung, he exclaimed, ‘that is my old friend indeed,’ and Colonel Nicholas Fish and General Van Rensselaer joined in attesting the superior correctness of the likeness.” Both as an historical document and as an example of the work of one of our most accomplished portrait painters of the period, the picture is an important addition to the American collection.
The list of recent accessions by the Department is too long to discuss in detail, but a few outstanding examples will serve to demonstrate its scope. In striking contrast to the Stuart is another representation of a General in the contemporary picture, Welcome Home, by Jack Levine. Painted with great technical virtuosity, it is incisive social satire of a high order. Recognized before the war as one of the ablest of the younger Boston artists, Levine was able to paint little during his years in the army. The Museum’s picture is his first important canvas since his release about a year ago and has already been honored by the award of second prize at the Carnegie Institute’s recent annual.
Between these chronological and spiritual extremes, are many nineteenth and twentieth century paintings of interest. Thomas Birch, one of our first and most distinguished marine painters, is represented by a major example entitled Shipwreck, a canvas which demonstrates both the romanticism of his approach and the extraordinary skill with which he rendered the opalescent transparency of water. Among many water colors which have been added to the Museum’s large collection in this field, perhaps the most unusual are three “atmospheric views” by the English-born George Harvey, whose travels from Virginia to Canada, trading, trapping and painting produced a series of remarkable papers depicting the wilder aspects of the country in the mid-nineteenth century. A characteristic paper by John Mann, Red and Silver Landscape, gift of James N. Rosenberg, is an important addition to the modern water color collection.
Sculpture and European painting are less fully represented, but in the former category the apple wood Abstraction by Warren Wheelock and in the latter, the large canvas, Bill Stevens’ Children, a gift of Mrs. A. W. Erickson, painted in this country by the French artist William Malherbe, are important additions.
EGYPTIAN SCULPTURES OF THE EARLY PERIOD
An important addition to the Museum Collection is the recently purchased sculptured head of an unknown early Egyptian king. It is over life-size, of red granite, and represents a king wearing the White Crown of Upper Egypt. Although study of this object has only just begun, various details of the style make it improbable that the head can be later than the early part of Dynasty IV (about 2600 B.C.) and it is possible that it may be as early as Dynasty II (about 2980-2780 B.C.). If additional study and research confirm this dating, the head will take its place as the earliest extant colossal sculpture of the archaic period of Egyptian art. In any event, it must be grouped among the few early royal portraits existing outside of Cairo. It is an extraordinarily impressive work of art, vigorously modelled in a style new in the earliest period of Egyptian art.
Three royal statuettes of Dynasty VI which were added to the Museum collection in 1939 will also be shown on February 22 for the first time. These statuettes, perhaps the finest surviving pieces of sculpture from the end of the Old Kingdom, give unique evidence of the perfection of workmanship achieved by the royal studios just before the collapse of the first great period of Egyptian history. The largest of these figures, 15 1/2 inches high and of alabaster, represents the queen mother, Ankhnes-meryre, holding her son, the child-king Pepy II. It was probably made at the time of the coronation of this young king, whose reign was to be the longest in recorded history. This statuette is the first royal example of a composition which became standard in Egyptian art in representations of the goddess Isis holding her son Horus.
The other two sculptures portray Pepy I, father of Pepy II. One, of alabaster, shows the king seated on a throne in the costume of the Heb-sed festival, or royal jubilee. Similar compositions from the earliest dynasties are known both in relief and in the round, but this figure possesses one feature unique in the entire range of Egyptian art, for behind the king’s head stands a Horus falcon in the round, surmounting and forming part of the king’s name, which appears in relief on the back of the throne. The third statuette is of green slate (6 inches high) and is the finest of the three pieces in workmanship. It is the earliest surviving example of a kneeling king holding wine jars, a pose probably connected with temple ritual. Previously this subject was known in the round, only in a piece from the middle of Dynasty XII, roughly 400 years after Pepy I. The very hard slate has been worked with amazing delicacy and flexibility, producing a surface quality unattained in the Old Kingdom before this time.
Students of archaeology and history will not need to have pointed out to them the unique value of these inscribed figures. Their appeal, however, is not limited to the specialist in Egyptology. The beauty of the material, this fine workmanship, and the monumental dignity of the compositions, put them among the great artistic creations of all times. A detailed publication of these three pieces is in preparation and will be issued shortly by the Museum.
AMERICAN DECORATIVE ARTS
The American Decorative Arts Department has acquired during the last two years through gifts and purchase outstanding specimens of glass, pewter, ceramics and furniture, all carefully selected to supplement larger collections of which they are to become an integral part.
In addition, the Museum is exhibiting Greek Revival architectural doorways and pilasters removed from a Brooklyn drawing room owned by Matthew Clarkson, Jr. who was listed in the 19th century as one of New York’s wealthiest men. Matthew was the son of New York’s Revolutionary General Clarkson, close friend of General George Washington and one of the founders of the Society of Cincinnati. The Clarkson estate, called “Clarkson Lawn,” contained many acres of landscaped grounds in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. A pamphlet published by the New York Sun in 1846 gives a brief account of the owner and the place. “Mr. Clarkson is a most excellent man and pious Christian, lives in a showy house situated at Flatbush, in one of the most beautiful lawns in the state. Mr. Clarkson erected mostly at his own cost St. Paul’s Episcopal Church at Flatbush where the eloquent and Rev. Mr. Newman now officiates as rector.” “Clarkson Lawn” left the ownership of the Clarkson family and was later successively occupied by the Midwood Club, the Union League Club and finally by the Flatbush Y.M.C.A. from whom the Museum obtained the drawing room and hall.
Of special interest in the current exhibition is the recently purchased New England glass collection assembled by Mrs. Lura Woodside Watkins, most of which is illustrated in Mr. Watkins’ book, “Cambridge Glass.” An article discussing this glass was published in the December issue of the Bulletin.
A New York settee and four side chairs in the late Sheraton Classic style are painted in red lacquer with gold leaf and bronze applique decoration. In 1815 furniture of this type was advertised for sale in New York papers. The bronze appliques are unusual and the red lacquer is considered rare in American furniture. Two distinctive Philadelphia type gold and white Greek Revival side chairs upholstered in blue brocatel are also included. They were presented to the Museum by Miss Florence S. Sullivan of New York City.
Among the American ceramics and pewter are two recently acquired rare specimens not contained in any other museum’s collection. One, a sweetmeat dish of white earthenware gives evidence of the sophisticated products of high quality produced by the Bonnin & Morris factory of Philadelphia in 1771-1772. In form it is similar to those made in the 18th century by the Plymouth and Bow factories of England. It is composed of three half shells attached to a central rusticated stem surmounted by a circular shell of smaller size. The central stem is encrusted with many small shells and bits of coral. It is decorated with a hand-painted design of flowers, wheat and insects in underglaze zaffer blue.
Another addition is a three and a half pint tankard made by Frederick Bassett of New York City and Hartford, Connecticut (1761-1785.) It is one of four known examples and the largest size pewter tankard made in this country. The form is pleasing with domed cover, a volute thumbpiece and crenate lip of the type used in England at the time of Charles II. The graceful handle is of the so-called “swan’s neck” type with “fish-tail” terminal. It is the most important single example that has been acquired for the Museum’s pewter collection.
PRINTS AND DRAWINGS
Among the European prints recently acquired is a portfolio of seven woodcuts by Kaethe Kollwitz entitled “War” (Wagner 157-163). Published in an edition of one hundred copies by Emil Richter in Dresden in 1923, it is considered Kaethe Kollwitz’ most impressive work in the woodcut medium. Also in this medium are three prints in color by Adja Yunkers. Lithographs by Edvard Munch, Georges Braque, Camille Pissarro and Andre Masson have been added to the collection. Etchings by Rouault, namely, the Vollard publication, “Le Reincarnation du Pere Ubu,” the well-known “Le deux Soeurs” by Segonzac; the set of six etchings by Kurt Seligmann for “The Myth of Oedipus” and the rare third state of “Femme a Brouette” (Delteil 31) by Camille Pissarro (illustrated) are the more outstanding examples in etching. A large drawing by Dante Gabriel Rossetti called “Silence,” for which Mrs. William Morris served as the model, was a gift of Mr. Luke Vincent Lockwood. It is one of Rossetti’s more famous portraits. Four rare color prints and one drypoint by Mary Cassatt have been received through the bequest of Miss Mary T. Cockcroft.
Among the American prints are the monotype entitled “Children at Play” by Maurice Prendergast; a group of small color woodcuts by Max Weber, and a portfolio of engravings by Anne Ryan entitled “Constellations.” Also many American lithographs issued prior to 1860 have been acquired.
PRIMITIVE AND NEW WORLD CULTURES
A thrilling chapter in American history is recalled by an Indian woman’s dress, decorated with Chinese coins and English fur-traders beads which, together with several fine examples of Columbia River art in basketry, have come into the possession of the Museum. This dress was made over a century ago by a Yakima Indian woman who had lived in the vicinity of historic Fort Simcoe, the military stronghold of the newly-organized Washington Territory.
Before this time came those strenuous years when England, Russia, Spain, France and the young United States contested the Oregon Country. Drake, in Queen Elizabeth’s time, had sailed to find and found a New Albion. Later the Spaniards from Mexico had explored the Pacific and the Philippines, and reached Vancouver Island before James Cook. This was in the last decade of the Eighteenth century. But already Russian adventurers were streaming southward from settlements in Alaska. The French were still traders establishing posts up the Missouri from St. Louis when Napoleon overwhelmed Spain and began selling the Spanish possessions. But even before Thomas Jefferson bought Louisiana and Lewis and Clark went post-haste up the Missouri and down the Columbia, Captain Robert Gray had brought his ship, the Columbia, into the Oregon which he renamed. The first English traders, based on China and Hawaii, brought Chinese coins, glass beads and red British flannel as novelties to barter with the Indians. Mackenzie and Thompson crossed the Rockies and the coast ranges. Posts of the Hudson’s Bay Company were built on the Columbia itself, and John Jacob Astor founded Astoria at its mouth.
The woman’s dress is made of two matched deer skins, one forming the front and the other the back. These are hung in an inverted position with the rump folded over to outline a basic design across the shoulders. This is overlaid with heavy Hudson Bay trade beads. The motive of decoration are terraced blocks in contrasting colors; the shapes may have been derived from porcupine decoration of earlier days, over which are pictured two birds, beak to beak, which may be magpies. This style of woman’s dress appears to be of northern Plains origin and to have reached the Columbia from the Missouri after the acquisition of horses by the northwestern Indians.
Several examples of the basketry of the region recently acquired illustrate the remarkable techniques of imbrication and false embroidery. These specimens which belonged for many years to Louis Tiffany, were studied and photographed by Dr. Spinden in 1908 at Fort Simcoe.
The textile study collection has been enriched by a gift from Pratt Institute of European woven and embroidered fabrics. These include the 17th century Portuguese or Andalusian satin brocade illustrated depicting figures of hunters and animals worked in chenille and metal yarns; and fine examples of Sicilian and Perugian embroideries in silk and linen. Three notable additions to the quilt collection have been made. One is an English copper plate print of red on white in which the date of manufacture, 1761, and the firm, R. Jones Old Ford, are incorporated in the pattern of architectural motives and pastoral figures. The second, a rich painted and printed floral design combining Chinese peonies with roses and leaves, was produced in Alsace by De Villier & Co. and dates about 1790. The third is a handwoven woolen coverlet embroidered in shades of blue wool in floral and scroll motifs, reminiscent of Indian calico flowers, enclosed in a scalloped border. It is of Connecticut manufacture, probably the late 18th century.
Our rich and widely known costume collections were augmented by many fine 18th century gowns. Dating from the first decade, of the century through the closing years, they portray each major silhouette of the century ranging from the tubular line through the bell form and finally the bustle and its variants.
Among numerous important additions to the Department of Oriental Art is a Japanese print from the choice “Letter Sheet Set” of Hiroshige, one of several prints presented to the Museum by Mr. Louis V. Ledoux. Another Japanese print (illustrated), Kiyomasu I, actor, about 1708, was the gift of Mr. Frederic B. Pratt.
Also added to the collection is the rare five-color porcelain beaker of the Early K’ang Hsi Period (1662-1722), a gift of Mr. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., which will be illustrated in the Annual Report to be published shortly. The decoration shows a reception, probably a birthday, for Ku Tsi, an old man who it is believed had over 100 children when he was eighty years old. The pine tree shown is the symbol of longevity. The vase is of the finest quality, beautiful color, and in unusually fine condition for a vase of this size.
Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1947 - 1952. 01-03/1947, 029-39. View Original