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BlogBack: National Academy Former Chief Curator on the Importance of the Sold Church and Gifford

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David Dearinger, above, chief curator of the National Academy Museum from 1996 to 2004, general editor of its collection catalogue for paintings and sculpture created between 1826 and 1925, and now curator of paintings and sculpture at the Boston Athenaeum, responds to Stealth Deaccessions: National Academy Sells Major Works by Church and Gifford:

The sale by the National Academy Museum and School of Fine Arts of Frederic Edwin Church‘s “Scene on the Magdalene” and Sanford R. Gifford‘s “View of Mt. Mansfield” is a sad event that leaves a major gap in a historic collection.

These two paintings were the stars of the Academy’s collection of Hudson River School paintings. Church’s “Magdalene” was arguably one of the collection’s top 10 in terms of historical significance and aesthetic quality.

In relation to the artists’ own careers: “Scene on the Magdalene” can surely be considered one of Church’s most important South American paintings; Gifford’s “Mt. Mansfield” is a quintessentially “Luminist” work of a popular and typical Hudson River School subject. It was the only painting by Gifford that the Academy owned.

These paintings have been included in almost every major monographic
exhibition for Church and Gifford, respectively, and in a number of
exhibitions devoted to the Hudson River School. They have been shown at
the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Gallery, Washington,
among other venues, and have been on view scores of times at the
Academy itself. They have been part of almost every retrospective
collection installation that the Academy has mounted and in many themed
exhibitions there, especially in the past 35 years.

The sale also devastates the until now intact collection of almost 100 American and European paintings assembled in the 1850s and 1860s by New Yorker James Augustus Suydam, an artist and patron who bequeathed the works to the Academy at his sudden, early death in 1865. For the past 150 years, Suydam’s collection, as preserved by the Academy, has been a rare, unabridged example of taste in mid-19th century America.

Although these two canvases may not have the “iconic” qualities of Asher B. Durand‘s “Kindred Spirits,” their removal from their highly visible place at the Academy and possibly from New York is certainly a blow to the cultural life of the city.

an ArtsJournal blog