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Partners Reunited

Split-Up Works Of Noted Couples Together Again At Atheneum


February 14, 2010

Adam, meet Eve.

Oh, you've met? Well, it's been a while.

The storied couple, each in a pair of 1613 panel paintings by Dutch artist Hendrick Goltzius, haven't been gazing at one another for centuries. The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford acquired the "Adam" canvas six years ago, then arranged to exhibit it with its original partner "Eve," on loan from the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Strasbourg, France.

The two are among several couples reunited for today's Valentine's Day opening of "Reunited Masterpieces: From Adam and Eve to George and Martha," in which paintings originally rendered in pairs are brought back together for the Atheneum's major spring show.

Like the Rembrandt show that preceded it in the same space, at a time when a lot of the Atheneum remains under renovation, it's a modest show with a quiet power that draws on the museum's holdings, enhanced by key loans from major collections in the U.S., Canada and Europe.

Some, like the life-size portraits painted in 1786 by George Romney of Sir John William de la Pole and his second wife, Anne, Lady de La Pole, were separated in a sale in 1913 and went through several hands. In 1926, the Lady Anne painting was owned by Alvan T. Fuller, the governor of Massachusetts. The Sir John work was acquired in 1917 by Commodore Morton Plant of New London. His widow, Mae Caldwell of Hartford, also known as Mazie Plant, married well twice more, ending up with estates in Newport, R.I., and New York City. Both large paintings landed in separate New England museums in the same year, 1961. Still, only now, for the first time in nearly a century, is the Atheneum's portrait of Sir John able to face his wife, who has been in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

Earlier this week, there was one final barrier involving the couple — as there was between Adam and Eve. Snow (or rather a scare of snow) resulted in the cancellation of a flight from France that would bring the Eve painting with its museum curator. It also kept a truck carrying the "Portrait of Anne, Lady de la Pole" in Boston until late last week.

For Eric Zafran, the Susan Morse Hilles Curator of European Art at the Atheneum, the wait has been worth it. The Hartford museum has had for some time a wealth of paintings originally meant to be parts of pairs, or multiple-paneled works. It's the thought of every curator to bring such works back together, if only for a brief exhibit.

There were no travel delays getting some of the other remarkable reunions in the show, such as the matching pair of portraits of a couple by Franz Hals from 1644. "Joseph Coymans," acquired by the Atheneum in 1958, had been apart from the facing portrait of "Dorothea Berck, Wife of Joseph Coymans" since the mid-19th century. For a time, her identity was lost, and the closest they got was in the collections of brother art lovers in adjoining Paris apartments at the turn of the last century. But she was finally correctly identified in 1908. The two were reunited for the first time in a 1962 Hals retrospective in his hometown of Haarlem, Netherlands. With the loan from the Baltimore Museum of Art, this is the first time they've hung together in the U.S.

And while it's true that most of the pairs of paintings in "Reunited Masterpieces" are couples, there are notable exceptions.

Chief among them is the 1490 Renaissance painting "The Finding of Vulcan on Lemnos" by Piero Di Cosimo, which the Atheneum's legendary director Chick Austin called "the most important addition to the museum's collection" when he bought it in 1939. The rare Italian oil painting of mythological subjects on a broad-weave canvas was part of a pair of paintings, or perhaps even a series, originally made for a Florentine home. But the one other work in the series known to exist, "Vulcan and the Beginnings of Civilization," with similar blue mountains, landscape and figures, has been in the possession of the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa since 1937. The two works, with strikingly different colors, perhaps due to differing conservation techniques, had been reunited twice since then, for a Piero di Cosimo exhibit in New York in 1938 and for a study in Ottawa a decade ago.

Another set of paintings conveying messages rather than marriage is the 1660 "Allegory of Vanity" by Spanish artist Juan de Valdés Leal, which has been in the Atheneum's collection for more than 70 years. It is reunited with the similar "Allegory of Salvation" from the York Art Gallery in England. One shows the vanity of cards and acquisition, while the other looks to the road of true salvation.

Some of the pairings in "Reunited Masterpieces" were already in the Wadsworth collection.

Two small panel paintings by the workshop of Paolo da Venezia, "The Angel of the Annunciation" and "The Virgin Annunciate," from the mid-1340s, which begin the show, were acquired as a pair by the Atheneum in 1941.

Other pairs were put together months or even decades after acquiring the first work.

Shortly after buying Dutch painter Johannes Verkolje the Elder's 1674 "Portrait of Johan de la Faille" in 1982, the museum became aware of the accompanying "Portrait of Margaretha Delff, Wife of Johan de la Faille," which it purchased the following year. Both have a luxurious feel, owing to the unusual medium of oil on copper. Each has a fanciful frame so elaborate, it nearly distracts from the painting. Still, it's tough to imagine them separated.

A second work by Simon Vouet from about 1620, "Saint Margaret," was purchased in 1961, months after the Atheneum first bought his "Saint Ursula." The two works, with similar approaches and color, could have been part of an even larger series of portraits of saints, Zafran says.

More than 50 years separated the acquisition of Giovanni Battista Piazzetta's circa 1740 "Girl with a Ring Biscuit," acquired in 1997, and that of his "Boy With a Pear," acquired in 1944, depicting a lad who seems to be flirting with the girl in the other portrait, offering her fruit.

And capping the exhibit are a pair of pastels of the first president and his wife by James Sharples that had been among the holdings of the Wadsworth family long before there was a Wadsworth Atheneum. Jeremiah Wadsworth was said to have been given the portraits by his friend George Washington, who had visited Wadsworth's home on the site of what is now the Atheneum. He passed them on to his son, Daniel Wadsworth, who bequeathed them to the museum that he founded in 1841.

The portraits, in stark profile, are rarely seen in the Atheneum, Zafran says, because of the delicacy of pastel on paper.

Not every item on Zafran's wish list of art reunions worked out because of financial or scheduling constraints (or political ones). A big London show of Salvator Rosa prevented a partner to be sent for the museum's 1640 "Lucrezia as the Personification of Poetry." Other partners couldn't be found for a number of other European painters, including Valerio Castello, Claude Lorrain, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, François Boucher, Jean-Baptiste Greuze and Johann Zoffany.

"But what we secured is pretty good, too," Zafran said.

"Reunited Masterpieces," like the preceding Rembrandt show, is an outgrowth of the reciprocal relationship the Atheneum has been able to establish after years of providing loans to other museums. Indeed, one unintended pairing currently at the Wadsworth in another gallery is El Greco's "Holy Family with Saint Anne and the Infant St. John the Baptist," circa 1600, from the Museo del Prado in Madrid, which can be seen alongside a workshop replica that's been in the Atheneum's collection since 1949.

The Spanish museum lent it to the Hartford museum in return for "Ecstasy of St. Francis" by Carvaggio, which is now back on display.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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