The Philadelphia Museum of Art today announced a number of new acquisitions that will significantly enrich its collection. Among the works that have been recently acquired are: a group of contemporary films and videos; Japanese ink paintings mounted as handscrolls, hanging scrolls, and folding screens; nine pieces of early American furniture that illuminate the artistic achievements of cabinetmakers in colonial New England and Pennsylvania; and a major work in stained glass dating to the 1520s commissioned for a church in Paris. These works have come to the Museum variously as gifts, promised gifts, and purchases. Some will be placed on view in the galleries in the coming weeks.
Timothy Rub, the Museum’s George D. Widener Director and CEO, stated: “Building the collections is among the most important of the Museum’s activities. We often speak about the Museum as housing a collection of collections, because the vast majority of our holdings have come as gifts from generous donors. And when works are purchased, this is most often made possible by contributions. We are deeply grateful to all those in our community and beyond who continue to help us develop a collection that ranks among the finest in this country.”
In recent years the Museum has placed an increasing emphasis on acquiring works of time-based media. This effort has been substantially aided by the recent gifts of Philadelphia collectors Peter and Mari Shaw. Their donation of ten works ranges from single-channel projections to multi-monitor installations created by a number of prominent mid-career artists including Fikret Atay (Turkish, b. 1974); Elaine Byrne (Irish, b. 1970); Marepe (Brazilian, b. 1970); Christopher Miner (American, b. 1973); Melik Ohanian (French, b. 1969); John Pilson (American, b. 1968); Anri Sala (Albanian, b. 1974); Matthew Suib (American, b. 1973); and Italo Zuffi (Italian, b. 1969). Among the highlights is Promises, 2001 by Sala, who represented France at the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013. Another key work is Ohanian’s The Hand, 2002, an installation comprising nine monitors—some isolated, others stacked or grouped—placed in a kind of conversation, each featuring images of different sets of hands inspired by striking workers in Paris. Seven of the gifts from the Shaws are the first works by these artists to enter the Museum’s collection, which has also been augmented by the recently announced joint purchase, with the Pinault Collection, of two major recent works by Bruce Nauman: Contrapposto Studies, I through VII, 2015/2016, consisting of seven large-scale video projections with sound, and Walks In Walks Out, 2015, a closely related work comprising a single-channel video with sound, currently on view.
The Museum has also acquired a group of twelve Japanese literati, Zen, and Kano school paintings from the Gitter-Yelen Collection. Dr. Kurt Gitter began collecting in the 1960s when he was stationed as an Air Force doctor in Kukuoka, Kyushu. He and his wife Alice Yelen ultimately amassed one of the most renowned private collections of Japanese art in the United States. The Museum purchase was made possible through the Hollis Fund for East Asian Art Acquisitions.
Highlights include a pair of six-fold screens and a handscroll by two leading artists of the literati Nanga school who were the focus of Ike Taiga and Tokuyama Gyokuran, Japanese Masters of the Brush, a major exhibition presented by the Museum in 2007. The screens by Taiga (1723-1776) are notable for their exuberant brushwork and contain calligraphies of Chinese poems alternating with images of pine, plum, bamboo, and Chinese figures. They are considered to be among the most important works by the artist outside Japan.
Another significant addition to the Museum’s holdings of Japanese painting is a pair of screens by Kano Sōeki Kagenobu, an official painter to the military rulers of Japan, the Tokugawa Shogunate, in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Skillfully layered, these lyrical landscapes are executed in ink and colors on paper and mounted as a pair of six-fold screens. They depict idyllic farming scenes through the changing seasons. They are the first Edo period screens to enter the collection by an artist of the family dynasty of painters who were the focus of the major exhibition, Ink and Gold: Art of the Kano, organized by the Museum in 2015. Also included also in this group of works is a rare, large-scale pair of two-fold screens by one of the last of the Kano artists, Hashimoto Gahō (1835-1908), who embraced Western influences after Japan opened its ports to the outside world and entered a period of modernization.
Noteworthy as well is a four-fold screen by Shiokawa Bunrin (1808-1877), an important figure active when the military rulers who had supported the painters of the Kano school began to lose power. Dated to 1870, the screen pays homage to an earlier tradition of literati painting. Bunrin reflects an intense fascination with scholars’ rocks, often depicted in Chinese painting manuals, and taken up by Japanese artists. His rocks seemingly float, suspended in space, emphasizing the eccentric shapes for which such rocks came to be prized.
American Decorative Arts
During the past several months the Museum has received a large group of American furniture, highlights of which will be presented in a special installation, Transplanting Traditions: Early Colonial Furniture from the Anne H. and Frederick Vogel III Collection, in the American galleries beginning July 15, 2017. Nine works have come from the collection of Anne H. and Frederick Vogel III, of Milwaukee, major supporters of the Museum who, during the course of five decades, have assembled one of the country’s foremost private collections of American furniture. Especially noteworthy is an early chest of drawers, covered by a profusion of abstractly patterned carving, which (along with a related box) were made in Hampshire County, Massachusetts between 1715 and 1725, in a style of joinery and ornament popularly known as Hadley furniture. These are the first examples of this type to enter the Museum’s collection. Among the gifts from the Vogels are an easy chair made in Boston between 1710 and 1725 that retains evidence of the exuberant pattern of woven tapes and brass tacks from its original upholstery; an early turned chair with matching daybed, also from Boston, each from the late 1600s; and a mahogany desk made in Philadelphia between 1725 and 1735 that is significant for having an additional turned ball foot at its center. The Vogels have also promised an additional three works including a waxwork wall sconce with glass candle arms made in Boston between 1720 and 1740.
Together, these additions add significant depth to the Museum’s renowned holdings of Pennsylvania furniture and enrich its holdings of choice works made in New England. They enable the Museum to compare, for the first time, key achievements in different regional styles.
French Decorative Arts
The Museum has acquired a remarkable stained glass window by Jean Chastellain (French, active about 1517-d. 1542), head of one of the most important stained glass workshops in Paris active during the reign of King Francis I. Depicting The Adoration of the Magi, it was part of an innovative series of compositions devoted to the life and passion of Christ created around 1529 for a newly constructed chapel in the Temple Church, Paris. This large window is notable for the complex stained glass techniques used to create the brilliant colors and details of the figures, the shading of the draperies, and its sense of spatial depth. It was one of a number of stained glass windows made at the direction of the chapel's donor, Philippe de Villiers de l’Isle Adam. He was the forty-fourth grand master of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, who had fought the Sultan Suleiman during the siege of Rhodes and who led the Knights to the island of Malta. The window is closely related to a painting of the same subject by Noël Bellemare (active Antwerp, Paris 1512-1546), executed for the same donor. When the church was demolished in 1796, the work was saved by Alexander Lenoir (1762-1839), founder of the Musée des monuments français, which was devoted to the preservation of monuments threatened by the French Revolution. The Adoration of the Magi, an outstanding addition to the Museum’s renowned collection of French Renaissance decorative arts, will be placed on view in Gallery 255 in early fall.