Sunday, November 19, 2017
Arts

Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg to lose major impressionist works

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ST. PETERSBURG — The Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg will soon say goodbye to a cache of works by some of the most beloved artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Works by Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cézanne and Paul Gauguin, among others, which have been displayed on gallery walls for decades, are being reclaimed by the estate of the deceased owner whose family placed them at the museum as long-term loans. The plan is to auction them at Christie's in New York in the spring.

"We want to emphasize that the Museum of Fine Arts is not selling these works," said Kristen A. Shepherd, executive director. "We are deeply grateful to the family for allowing us to share these stunning works with our visitors for over four decades."

The extended loans began in the 1970s and the loss — it is significant — will come as a surprise, even a shock, to many who assumed the works were part of the permanent collection. But they were from the private collection of Hunt Henderson, a collector who had what many considered the finest collection of European art of those periods in the southern United States.

Family members were friends of the museum's founder, Margaret Acheson Stuart, and shared the works. They also gave an important painting by Monet and two equally important paintings by Georgia O'Keeffe, including the iconic Poppy (1927) as gifts.

Gone will be two Monet paintings, including one portraying his beloved Giverny, another landscape by Cézanne, a genre painting, Woman Reading, by Renoir, and an Honoré Daumier work. The museum also will lose drawings and prints, not regularly on view, by James McNeill Whistler, Renoir, Edgar Degas and an antique mahogany armoire.

Henderson's son, Charles Crawford Henderson, died in 2016 and his heirs, who prefer to remain anonymous, decided to sell the works. A date for that hasn't been set, but given the prices for the artists in recent years, few museums, including the St. Petersburg one, could afford to compete.

Museums rely on loans both from other museums and private collectors. They are the backbone of special exhibitions that are usually conceived as a concept and illustrated by works from many lenders. They usually originate in a specific museum or company specializing in such shows and travel to many venues.

Museums also benefit from collectors who are willing to lend works to museums to enhance their permanent collections. In the example of the St. Petersburg museum, this loan was unusually long.

Still, this is a keen loss for the museum, which has a comprehensive collection spanning the eras and continents of human artistic endeavor. French Impressionist and post-Impressionist art, a small but choice selection on view, has been a cornerstone of the museum's draw for visitors and gaps in it will be obvious: no Renoir, for example, or Cézanne's lovely rendering of an orchard. But Monet's Houses of Parliament, Effect of Fog is staying along with other works reflective of the era.

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