Thursday, April 12, 2007

Bruce Museum Shindig

Last night saw Peter Sutton's open house at the Bruce for RTM members and heads of various Town departments. Mary Curry represented the Greenwich Library, Jim Lash represented Town Hall, and the rest of us merely cozied up to the bar and the hors d'oeuvres provided by hometown resident Andy Burke. Army Special Forces Captain (ret'd) Eric Roitsch was there with his beautiful friend Karin; Franklin Bloomer promised to read the blogs about James Kennerley's recitals; and Peter gave us an insider's look at what lies ahead for the museum.

Many local residents may not realize that the land, the building, and even the collections of the Bruce are all owned by the Town. Which probably means that Greenwich has the best art collection of any municipality in the country. Who knew?

As Peter put it, the Bruce does more in less space than any museum of its size in the US. World-class exhibits have become almost the norm of late, as anyone who has been to the museum recently can attest. And there are more to come: the heirs of Dutch art dealer Jacques Goudstikker are working with Peter to exhibit some of the 200+ paintings looted by the Nazis and recently returned to their ownership.

Here are some excerpts from an article in the International Herald Tribune of February 22, 2007:

"NEW YORK: A year ago, the settlement was hailed as one of the largest restitutions of art seized by the Nazis. Now, about 170 old master paintings returned to the heirs of Jacques Goudstikker, a prominent Dutch dealer who fled Amsterdam in 1940, are to be offered at Christie's in three sales, beginning in New York in April.

"While the heirs — Marei von Saher of Greenwich, Connecticut, and her two daughters, Charlène and Chantal — finalize exactly how many paintings Christie's will auction, they are also working with Peter Sutton, an expert on Dutch old master paintings and the director of the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, to organize an international traveling exhibition.

"Which museums will take the show has yet to be determined, but it will include paintings that the family is not, for now at least, selling — including works by Salomon van Ruysdael, Jan Steen and Jan van der Heyden.

"'We are hoping this show will symbolize his connoisseurship as a dealer," said von Saher said of her late father-in- law. "People have forgotten him. We want the public to recognize his legacy."

"Even more important, her daughter Charlène said, the traveling exhibition would tell the world "about a historical injustice put right."

"The story of Jacques Goudstikker — and his heirs' eight-year legal battle to wrest some of his paintings from the Dutch government — is a complex tale of scholarship and tenacity. Goudsticker, his wife and their son fled the Netherlands on May 14, 1940, as the city was invaded by the Nazis, leaving behind his gallery business and 1,400 art works.

"A second-generation art dealer, Goudstikker was unable to take any of his prized paintings with him but he did carry a small black notebook containing meticulous records of more than 1,000 works in his inventory. That notebook, which his wife retrieved after he died in a fall on the blacked-out freighter carrying them to safety, became crucial decades later when his widow and son began searching for the collection.

"Many of the best works at one point were owned by Hermann Göring. After the war, nearly 300 paintings from the Goudstikker collection were returned by the Allies to the Dutch and, despite the family's protests, placed in the national collections. But in February 2006 the Dutch government agreed to return 202 paintings it had recovered after the war."

One of the paintings the family will keep - and which we will all be able to see right here in Town - depicts the castle where Goudstikker lived before World War II. Obviously, dear reader, the Bruce is to be one of the museums privileged to show these fabulous works of art. The slide show Peter narrated about the Goudstikker collection was breathtaking. Many of the pictures hung until recently in the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, one of the most outstanding repositories of great art anywhere in the world. And now they're coming here to little old Greenwich....

Peter also shared with us some architects' drawings of a planned expansion for the museum. Well, if we're going to vault into the big leagues of the art world, it would seem to make sense to house our collections and exhibits in a worthy setting. Your scribe would have included a photo or two of these plans had Peter not gently asked us to put away our picture-taking cell phones, which presumably included your roving reporter's camera as well.

It was interesting to learn that, according to Peter, Greenwich is home to "the very best concentration of quality art collections" in the world. Even though the Hirshhorn collection has moved from John Street to Washington, DC, other great collections have moved in to replace it, such as the Hascoes', portions of which have been shown at the Bruce in the past. And apparently there are other fabulous holdings in Town, secreted away behind back-country doors and probably known only to their owners and Peter himself.

All in all, it was an eye-opening evening (pun intended). We have a jewel right here in our own back yard, dear reader, and clearly the advent of Peter Sutton to Greenwich has been a major factor in recent developments. Your scribe stood next to Board Co-Chair George Crapple during Peter's remarks, and it was clear from our chat that after the rocky period a few years ago when Hollister Sturges was rather badly treated by a weak and inexperienced board, the Bruce Museum has rebounded in the most vigorous way possible.

It was good of Peter to share the museum's plans with us, and it was gratifying that so many Board members were there to show their interest and support. Also pleasing to learn was the fact that the museum is a resource to the schools in Town, and hosts numerous field trips each year for students of all ages. A word of scribal advice: hie thee to the Bruce Museum, gentle reader; enjoy the special exhibits and the permanent collections; and before you leave, enrol yourself as a member. It will be one of the best investments you will ever make.


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