Director of the Kimbell Art Museum
Eric Lee is the director of the world renown, Fort Worth Kimbell Art Museum. Beginning with an art history PhD from Yale to leading the Kimbell since 2009, Lee details the incredible acquisition and background of several prized works from the Kimbell’s collection. We also discuss his career, the Kimbell history, the Louis Kahn and Renzo Piano architecture, and some Kimbell secrets.
Welcome back to the fortitude desk folks in studio with us today is Mr. Eric Lee, director of the fourth Kimball Art Museum. Before that, let’s thank our Mr. Mark Stone with info group. For his awesome help. Yes, our podcast. Yep. And another large gentleman named Jay Fitzgerald, who handles all the audio video for us as well. Thanks very much. Last week’s guest Grace Collins of she’s a foreword for the TCU soccer girls team. She was an influential in the two one victory over Texas A&M on this past Sunday. So great job, Grace Collins. Yep. Is it because she was on the show Brinton? I
think so. I think everybody who’s been on the show has had winning seasons of some sort of great success so that our, our guest this time around, she probably will acquire even bigger and better art we ever before selling some big acquisition might follow this show. Yes, but you had a you had an unusual insight to some comments from last time the fishing shirt. We’ve received a lot they’ve and some men have actually reached out to me and taken offense to it. And then it brings me into another question that I have for you being an elite, elite athlete like yourself. Who told you that but continue. A lot of the friends that I know they consider mowing the lawn a workout of some sorts, and I know that you did a lot of working out when you played football? Would you consider that? A workout is mowing in on a Hot August day a workout?
I would not consider a workout. But as my watch tells me a goal is a goal. So if I reach my goal, I think I’ve done some dance
only or mine does like a deal where it’s measured to me is doing some type of exercise where my upper body is not moving at all.
off. I think sometimes when I’m sleeping or when I’m sitting on my chair, so I don’t know how what it’s actually measuring. But anyway, I would say Eric, what do you think mowing the yard? exerciser? No, I don’t know. I’ve heard that question. never posed to you yet. So thank you for answering.
Well, that’s we’re always trying to, you know, help in Men’s Fitness here. So let’s get on to our various things. Before we
jump in. Mr. Lee, you’re the piece behind you, you might have noticed is part of the fortitude collection. It’s the Soleil Avant by Mr. Mr. Monet. I think you’re familiar. This piece was acquired back in the year at CES 2020. Maybe I can’t disclose the price we paid for but what are your What are your thoughts on maybe the framing job?
Excellent framing advice. The Campbell for framing is Aaron brothers places where you do look for the art or occasionally some of our greater words came from there.
We’ll stop. We’ll stop humiliating you because you definitely deserve a better than that. But first out of the way out of the gate, Mr. Eric Lee. He’s the fourth director of the Kimball Art Museum. He arrived there in 2009. So he’s been there quite a bit of time now. He’s a native of North Carolina. Can you tell us about your childhood growing up in North Carolina? what that was like?
Well, I’m from a small town in the eastern part of the state and North Carolina is a lot like Fort Worth in many ways. And there’s, I think, an affinity between the two places and I feel very much at home and fort worth having grown up in North Carolina.
What was this was a town you were born
it got called Clinton. Yeah, very small town in the eastern part of the state. From there, Brinton, he
went to a school. I think I always wished I could get in but they never really wrote me too many notes but a place called Gail. You heard of it. I have here. My grandfather was a wiffen. Poof there. Oh, great. Yep. Do you saying I do not. But he plays the pedal steel. Eric will always have to mention that. Yes. So you earned your ba your Ma and your PhD in art history at Yale. Why did art become something you were passionate about? What what? what triggered you to become a lover of art?
Well, when I started college, I did not intend to major in history of art. And I found myself taking art history courses and, you know, three a semester I just absolutely loved it. I had a passion for for the subject. And I ended up majoring in it. And I didn’t go straight to grad school, I decided to do something else entirely. And I worked on Capitol Hill for two years for the Senate Intelligence Committee saw that as well and then get tell us what that means. Well, the Senate Intelligence Committee is the us senate Oversight Committee for the intelligence community. And I was interested in politics at the time and in intelligence and foreign affairs. And I was fortunate enough to get this job as as a research assistant on the committee, a low level position on the Intelligence Committee. It was extremely interesting. And so many interesting things were going on what’s going on? The collapse of communism, Yana Tiananmen Square took Place at that time. So there was a lot of many interesting things going on at that time. I was there for two years, had a great experience. But I knew I wanted to go back to grad school to get a PhD, or the idea of becoming a museum director. And so that’s what I did. Is there
a piece of art in your life that you first off gave you that that feeling that you’re like, I want to be more involved in this world?
Well, my parents when I was little would take me to museums, the National Gallery of Art and Washington, and I just fell in love with that place. And, and then, when I went to grad school, the museums at Yale just say I love those museums. And they were both designed by Louis Kahn, who was the architect of the Campbell, of course, and it was really those museums that that gave me this real passion for not only art history, but Louis Kahn and his his architecture. And when I was in grad school, people used to ask me what my dream job was. And I used to always say that Kimball wanted to be director of the Kimball Art Museum. So when I actually got the job, and people could couldn’t believe it, because he remembered what I had said that he was really grad school. So I feel very lucky to be
here. This outstanding, brought right before we get to the Kimble, though, a few years. You spent the tech museum Cincinnati? Yes. In the Oklahoma University. School museum. Yes. There. Okay. Yeah, that was a period of several years.
I was there for about nine years or so years, okay. And it was a great experience. It was my first time living in this part of the country. And I had a great experience and we were able to build a new building. And the museum grew a lot while I was there, and just had a great experience. Very nice.
And from there, obviously, the Kimball comes calling and 2009. You jumped at it your dream job. That’s actually fantastic. That your predecessor, Mr. Pillsbury, Edmund Pillsbury, did you know the man,
I did know the man he was not my immediate predecessor, Timothy Potts was the predecessor. And, and Ted I knew Ted as well. And Ted Ted died about a year after I started working at the Kimball very good night exactly a year after I started work, so I knew I knew him and I know Timothy parts of
surely What was your first day on the job? Like at the Kimball, you’ve achieved this incredible thing? What are you feeling? Do you if you can recall that far back?
Well, I remember walking into that building and my office and and yeah, I have such respect for that building and the architecture I, I there was a silence almost being in that building. It was like a holy space, sort of, I felt like I couldn’t raise my voice. I’m not one to raise my voice period. But it’s I had just an enormous respect for the job for the building for the museum. And in the museum’s position within the wider art world. I was just I was elated to be there
surely. So the Kimball Art Museum Brinton you we have some we have some interesting stats to share with our with our audience. Please chime in when appropriate, but you guys see roughly 300,000 on average people per year ending
on the exhibition, yeah, sometimes less, sometimes a bit more, depending on on the exhibition. How’s that fair? Can COVID
Oh, yeah, for sure. Compared to other museums, does that rank in the top 10 most visited or were
the museums in New York, museums and cities that have a huge tourist attendance, they’re going to have many more many more people. So New York gets a tremendous number, the Met has millions of people. Okay, um, but the good the North Texas doesn’t have the tourist and the number of tourists that some other parts of the country get. So we’re not going to have that kind of attendance. But we are happy with the attendance that we get, because of the size of the museum, unlike the met the Kimball is fairly small, in terms of square footage. And so so we we have about as many as the building can accommodate.
Okay, one of the interesting things that I saw that we talked about, but the Kimball under your direction that you guys have about one or two maybe acquisitions a year on average, about right about right, yeah, besides the piece behind you that we’re going to try to sell you here after the show. I know this is a very hard thing to do is to capture these these significant pieces in the art world. Or you’re constantly looking I assume, how do things find you? How do how do real opportunities find their way to your to your email inbox?
Well, every acquisition has a different story. And as sometimes we are approached by dealers, sometimes we find works that that are coming up auction that dealers may have. And sometimes works of art come to the museum through the garage of the Kimball just showing up. I’m referring to the discovery of a we were trying to get to that here. Yeah, no doubt so
so it or did sometimes it happened where there’s a very, you know, wealthy person who passes away and then it this rumor mill begins that, oh my gosh, this person had this collection or this particular piece, we should reach out, you know, I mean, I would assume that that’s wait some of those for
all of the above. And then and then with some works like the like the Michelangelo, we knew about that, because it was clean by Michael Gallagher the head of paintings conservation at the Met. And he was a former Kimball employee. And he told he told Claire berry or conservator about it. And so that’s how we sort of got the inside says good word that
at the Intelligence Committee has paid off. Exactly. But indeed, I bet there’s a lot of work behind it.
So I want to say, you know, we have a couple of years ago, we were given a Modigliani sculpture, which was an extremely important and very, very rare sculpture. And that was in a private collection, Gwen wieners collection, and and she had lived in Fort Worth with her family growing up, and then she decided that she wanted to give it to the Kimball. And it was one of the most important gifts that Kimball has ever received. So
not to make light of that. But we have just curious when NHL team wins the Stanley Cup, they each get a night with the Stanley Cup at home, and they do take it around, you get time to know you don’t take it home, but you get a time to like say, Oh my gosh, I’m sitting here with this piece. And that’s got to be an amazing feeling.
Well, when you have it in the conservation lab, it really is when you can really get up close. And it’s it is a wonderful feeling. Right? Absolutely. Or when you’re looking at a painting or under a microscope or something like that, or when the conservator is cleaning the painting and you see it in stripped state and it’s it’s really great for sure. So the Kimball Museum, they you showcase art, European, African, Asian, basically everything except American art, contemporary art, yes. And we do not show those because they aim and quarter for American art, and then the Fort Worth modern or contemporary art. So
you’re very good about it and acknowledging those two, because I’ve heard you speak several times before and you’re really nice about mentioning those you guys were absolutely sure. He can I ask a question. Um, it’s,
what would you say coming from your background in the job that you have? What is the primary purpose of art in society? I think that oftentimes, you know, art gets maybe a bad rap from some and then not as as much accolades as it should. So what would you say that that the reason the primary result collection of it? Sure, well, I
don’t want to sound hokey, but I really do think that art is like the soul of society. And through art, we get to know what it is to be human, what it is to live in the world we live in. It’s also a way of of connecting with, with past former civilizations. I mean, at the kemboi, you can look at ancient Egyptian works, ancient Assyrian works, and we can connect to them through through the art. And
yeah, so yeah, that was actually a beautiful explanation of that. That’s what’s fantastic. So the Kimball was built or opened, excuse me in 1972. Yes, Louis Kahn, who you mentioned, designed the building K and Velma Kimball, the two initial benefactors to the museum to lately they their their pieces still exists in plethora at the museum. These people are no longer with us now. But then it comes Renzo Piano, another architect helps you helps you design the pavilion area, correct? Yes. So not too much, not too many years ago. That was a big undertaking, to put it mildly. Could you speak a little bit about the architecture and I’ve read stories about how difficult it was to build the the initial museum architecturally. Is there a Is there a story there? You can share with us?
sure that Renzo Piano building focus on on that I think of the Louis Kahn and the rainbow, but maybe it started? Yes, you’re right. The Louis Kahn building is coming up on its 50th anniversary in October of 2022. And when that building opened, the Kimball was the building was recognized as one of the greatest museum buildings ever built. And, and I know as it was going up, I hear people in Fort Worth still To this day some people say they remember when it was going up. They question whether it would, it would even stand up with these unusual vaults, etc. and but then when it opened it was almost immediately hailed as this masterpiece. Now remember a story that Ben Fortson, Ben fordson and his wife Kay Fortson have led the Kimball nk Fortson was, was Kay Kimball’s. Nice, okay. And she she was president of the Kimball board from 75 until 2017. She’s currently Chairman, and their daughter is now president. Well, Ben Fortson. I’ve heard him say many times that when he walked through the front doors, when they finally finished the building, he said, Yeah, I think this is going to be okay. And I think everyone had been a little concerned. It was a leap of faith to trust, Louis Louis Kahn, to this really would work because it was so unusual structurally. And, and and you know, what the greatest one of the greatest works of art, the largest work, work of art that the Kimball has, is certainly the building.
It’s not uncommon for most museums are not really
well. Very few museum buildings actually rise to that level. In my opinion, I do believe the Campbell is the greatest museum building that’s ever been built. And there there are other buildings like the Guggenheim in New York. Yes, that is an absolutely great building. But the it may not be so great for exhibiting works of art was one great thing about the Kimball is it’s not only a great building in and of itself, but it’s a great building to show art in the light is absolutely spectacular. The scale is just perfect for it. The with the Guggenheim in New York, Frank Lloyd Wright’s building, almost overwhelms the art though. I will say I’ve seen some installations in the Guggenheim that look absolutely fantastic. That worked very well with that building.
So that’s a really big part of it, too. Is the installation within the building, how all that aesthetic is
yes. And at the at the Kimball the art really completes the building. And it gives scale to the walls. And I have seen the building with nothing in it when we were redoing the floors. And it’s so beautiful. That building we thought about just opening the building empty just Oh, good. See me cool.
Yeah. In the Kimball operates on a $12 million a year, more or less budget, about a little more than that. So 616 or so it’s funded primarily through a fount the Kimball foundation. Yes,
the Kimball Art Foundation, right? This is unusual, as far as art museums go and surely that it’s its foundation. So the Kimball Art Museum is owned and operated by the Kimball Art Foundation? Well,
this may be a question you can’t answer but have to ask anyway. And if you can’t, you won’t answer it. But the insurance required for a museum of this size, in the value of the art inside is things you can tell us about because I’m sure it’s it’s a it’s a very large number, but it’s considerable. Yes. And you’re insuring against theft or damage, all the things that could happen to a piece of art, how do you how do you ensure a Monet piece is that there is there is a price to do that,
yes, we have regular valuations done on on the collection. And and we keep up with these valuations, the current prices, and and then we work with our insurers to make sure that they are insured to the extent that they should be insured. And we have to ensure not only our collection, but also works award on loan for exhibitions that we do. And and I will say also, there’s this great program that the government has, in which the government indemnifies exhibitions in museums, we have to apply for this. But it saves the Kimball and other museums millions of dollars. And there’s very little cost to the government unless there’s a major loss but you know, knock on wood, and we haven’t had any major loss like that to ask if there’s the claim yet. So knock on wood.
Well, what was the movie with Pierce Brosnan that lady and she was the insurance. Oh, remember is this tea? I think it was a remake. So it’s I cannot think of the name of it. But I was talking about that doesn’t happen. Right. So don’t quote dropping from the roof with smoke in the Intelligence Committee background so it can probably be handled.
Have you ever had a attempted theft of a piece? Is that something
that knock on wood we have not great At my former Museum, there was a theft 20 years or so before I arrived, and but they got the got the works back. Okay.
Interesting. Okay. Well, that covers the the Kimball section. The last question before we have a little presentation for you is the exhibits you’ve pulled into the the years one particular we saw most recently, a few years back. But the Monet late years exhibit was phenomenal. We visited actually four or five times it was amazing. I can’t imagine how that happens. But is there a Is there a way that you pull that to the Kimball and make that a reality for the city of Fort Worth? We’re sorry to hear that
Kimball is able to have great exhibitions, in part because we have a great collection. And to be able to borrow works of art you need to have you need to be able to lend works of art. And so our collection those small, is in great demand for for loans and other museums. So at any given time, we have works literally all over the world. In exhibitions, things have slowed down a bit recently with COVID. But but the Kimball also has a reputation for for having these great exhibitions. And and so other museums are willing to lend to us with the late Monet show. We we owe so much to George shackleford, our Deputy Director, he is one of the leading experts in the world on impressionist art. And so people were other museums were more than happy to lend not only to the Kimball, but also to George’s exhibition. And I had other museum directors come to town. And they were just amazed that we got some of the loans that we got for that for that show. It was absolutely spectacular is one of my favorite exhibitions since I’ve been at the Kimball and so you nailed it my
bartering look like is I’ll give you one Monet for two Rembrandt, and
sometimes it works exactly like I’m at other times someone will lend us an exhibition, and they’ll expect us to be generous with them in the future. And in fact, that’s even happening right now, with works that were on loan to the Monet exhibition. So I can only imagine the paperwork, no doubt. Value mine, if we say no to a loan, another museum is less likely to lend to us in the future, or will they ask again? Or it or no, it’s, I mean, some sometimes we go back and there’s an initial negative response, we sometimes do go back depending on how important the loan is for us. But then also our exhibitions. If I say so myself, exhibitions that the Campbell does, are among the, in my opinion, the best exhibitions in the world, frankly. And there are very few museums in the United States that have the exhibition program that we have. And I add it, it really is amazing. Some of the shows that we have. So as I said before, other museums and private collectors are more often than not more than willing to lend to us. And then some museums lend to us because they want to see how their paintings or sculptures will look in the Louis Kahn building or the Renzo Piano building for that matter.
Yeah. Interesting. All right, Eric. So our crack research team and our fortitude exhibit or fortitude collection team, put together a little presentation for you on the screen. Okay, we’re gonna run some pieces by you that we know you’re familiar with. Hopefully, you’ll share a little bit of a story because each of them have one so we’re gonna just say let’s just do this for fun.
See if you can guess the first piece we’re about to show. Michelangelo? Caravaggio, the San
Nicolas Pusan. Yes. So Okay, go ahead. I was gonna give you the title title sacramental ordination. Nicholas Pusan is a French painter, circa 19. or excuse me, 1636 to 1640. So, a few years old years ago, Kimball now I thought we’re gonna let her intro intro him with the piece so our listeners know who we’re looking at.
So this painting shows Christ giving the keys to St. Peter, with the 12 apostles. And then off to the left, you see the man reading a book that St. Paul who wasn’t one of the original 12 but would later go on to preach the gospel. And then they’re standing in front of the River Jordan and the figures in the grove of trees behind them are ancient philosophers and they represent the old order that would give way to the new order. Now we have the New Testament. Now this painting is part of a series of seven paintings called the seven sacraments. And within European art history, this series was an absolute landmark series a very famous, and in the 18th century, they were among the best known paintings in Rome. And the first time an export license was ever denied for cultural patrimony reasons was ever this set of paintings in the 717 30s Sir Robert Walpole, the British Prime Minister, I tried to buy the paintings and the Pope said they were too important to leave Rome. But then in the 1780s, the fourth Duke of Rutland was able to buy them and they the major painter sir Joshua Reynolds, negotiated the purchase, and they brought the paintings to London first, and then to Rutland castle. And that’s an 1816 there was a fire there, one of them burned. One of them was sold in 1939, and then went to the National Gallery of Art in Washington. And then we were able to buy this from the current Duke of Rutland in 2011. I believe that your direction, right? Yes.
Did you know Eric that he this said that? Pusan painted four cardinal Cardinal ritually Sheila, Louis and Louis the 13th 14th 14th, Thor black, the 13th as well, absolutely.
So prusa he’s one of the most important painters in the history of French art. And for hundreds of years, he had this enormous influence. You have painters like Jacques Louis dahveed, and ang SES on Cezanne famously said that he wanted to redo hussin after nature, and it’s so you wouldn’t have Amy’s there’s it’s no exaggeration to say Picasso would look very different, if not for pusa ramas. Picasso was greatly influenced by Saison, who in turn was so greatly influenced by by Pusan,
very good, we’re going to grant you one point for that answer. That is the correct answer.
Do you see that lineage is or is there any kind of a map that shows those influences like that, whether it be by dotted line or straight line, like he just explained, where you could say, okay, Picasso influenced by so and so influenced by his, that’s very fascinating,
we should do something like that. Next on the and also want to say about this painting. It is an unbelievably great condition, absolutely pristine condition. It was painted, as you said, in the 1630s. And I saw this painting when it was in stripped state in the conservation lab. And it looked practically as it does in the galleries today, we could have hung in in the galleries at that time, there was very, very little damage on this page on next up condition is important when we consider works of art. Yes,
sir. Next up, this piece is titled the edge of a forest with a green field by I believe is probably Jakub van rice. Dale, yes. painter. And I get Jakub, right? Yes, that’s it. Yeah. Painted, or circa 1656. And I know this guy to be one of the greatest landscape painters maybe ever in history.
Absolutely. He was certainly the greatest 17th century Dutch landscape painter. Rembrandt also painted great lens landscapes. But landscape was rice, Dale’s specialty. And he created a new type of landscape, he would look at ordinary nature, like this edge of a forest, by my grain field, and he would make that ordinary landscape, the subject of his paintings, but he would make that ordinary landscape he wouldn’t give it a grant or and I’m poetry. That, that and making in this particular painting, and yet, there’s there’s almost a minor mentality about the painting, yet it is an everyday ordinary landscape. Yeah, I mentioned the condition of the Pusat. The condition of this painting is extraordinary as well, when you’re in the museum, look at the reflections on the water. It’s just it’s it and with the water lilies there. It’s almost like a Monet, what are literally hundreds of years later, but this approach to landscape was like the Pusat enormously influential. And so you have artists like Gainsborough in the 18th century was looking back at Rice style. And then constable in the early 19th century, was looking at, you know, the ordinary landscapes that he grew up with, not landscapes that had historical associations or anything like that. just ordinary landscapes but imbuing them with emotion. And of course, that approach also had an impact on the impressionist later in the 19th century as well. I also want to say the right style looks especially great above the llama layer. So
I was gonna put that pointed that out, I was gonna ask if you’ve ever presented or discussed art, above a purple lava lamp like this must be the first time
I must tell you, Eric, our camera man and audio video guy Jay, he did tell me he believes he can paint the same painting. He felt very confident when he told me that today. So I wish we have an artist in the mix. The
paint by numbers was not out at this particular time. Not quite yet. But he did bring something up. And I want to just just kind of jump in. You talked about initially how you know so much of this artists, the reflection of humanity, and you’ve now told us that this is an ordinary landscape that somebody’s enriched because of their almost like ability to extract emotion and put it on there. Yes. And so does that start this curver that’s always been with art or, or is that just the the essence of art and just
Well, I think artists, great artists always put something of themselves in what they were painting, whether it’s Michelangelo or Titian or any artist is going to do that if they’re at a certain level. But what’s unusual about this is that rice Dale is taking such an ordinary nature is an everyday ordinary nature, and then he’s imbuing it with this emotion. And then also in this case, a certain grant or in monumentality, and that tree, the great oak there, it’s almost like it’s almost like a person almost you can you think of it in those terms. But the painting is also a sort of a reminder of time you see a fallen oak there. And and so we know that the monumental oak that we see there, and the future at some point will be falling and dying as well.
Do you think to fortitude logos help the painting or hurt? Absolutely, absolutely. And that that shows fortitude? Beautiful,
we didn’t know if it would be considered vandalism of us put a small fishing shirted individual here but we just left it to the art world
right next up for you, Eric. This guy’s got a story in we discussed this part of the show, but this is the interior of salt ambrogio I say that right at San ambrogio by Richard Parkes bonington, a British painter, circa 1826. And this one made some pretty good headlines here not too long ago. Before I get into that did Boddington did he die early like your
AGI? And he’s one month shy of his 26th birthday?
Young’s young guy. Yes piece though. Just want to add one of your acquisitions as well. But recently, could you tell us the story?
Sure this, this is one of the most unusual acquisitions. So bonington is an extremely important painter. very influential, though he died very young. And because he died young, they’re not many mining turns around. And so he’s is a very rare artist making him more valuable. We’re sure because they’re, they’re so few of them. Yeah. And they very rarely come on the market. And, and then there were there are certain collectors who have who would buy almost every bonnington that would come on the market, including Paul Mellon, for instance. And and the Yale Center for British art actually has a large collection of Boddingtons because it was the museum was founded by Paul Mellon, and he bought almost every bonnington he could get his hands on. So bonnington is an artist I’ve always loved his work. And and and as I said before, it’s very rare artists. And then the most amazing story happened. We actually bought another bonnington in 2009. So I was thrilled with that painting. And, and then a few years ago, I got a call from Mack Shaffer and he said that he had a collection that he wanted to show me and and i i said we’ll bring it by the by the Kimble and we’ll take a look at it. It was a hot June day. So I said park in the garage because I wanted to keep everything out of the sunlight. And so he he arrives on my way out to the garage. I asked George shackleford deputy director to come with me to take a look at at the collection. And Max started pulling things out of the truck. And we were admiring what he had. And then he pulled this beautiful little church interior that was signed at the time by this 19th century Scottish artists named David, Robert, Robert. And George and I admired the painting. And Matt put everything back in the truck and left. And George and I both actually took photographs of the Robert so with our iPhone, I still have that photograph taken in the garage of the Kimball. And anyway, a few days later, George was doing a Google image search for bonnington watercolors, and it was for a completely unrelated reason. And then lo and behold, he sees in the Wallace collection and London, a studio watercolor that was clearly based on the oil sketch that we had just seen in the garage of the Kimball a few days before. Now, the studio watercolor means that it was painted in the studio, based on a sketch painted elsewhere. And so what what we did, we got a catalogue of Boddingtons works that had been published just a couple of years earlier, written by Patrick neuen, the leading bonnington expert. And in the catalog entry for the watercolor. Patrick had written that it was based on an untraced oil sketch, painted April 11 1826, in Milan, and we know about that oil sketch because bonnington traveling companion in Italy, wrote home to his parents in Paris, that bonnington had painted this, this painting inside the church. And it was the first painting that bonnington made on his first and only trip to to Italy. So we call Matt Schaefer and have him bring the painting back over. And when I call Patrick noon, and Patrick sorts asking questions, well, why does it paint it on? Is it something called a Davey’s? millboard? The support that it was painted on? And yes, it actually was, is it does it have a sticker on the back? The sticker had been removed, but you could see the shadow where the sticker had been? I send Patrick photographs of it, infrared images that we had taken in our conservation lab. And Patrick says, he’s almost sure it’s bonnington and then he actually comes to the Kimball and he says there’s absolutely no question. This is certainly the this untraced oil sketch, and, and of all artists bonnington being so incredibly rare, it just, the odds of this happening are so slim, and also the odds of George doing this Google image search just a couple of days, probably two days after we had seen this in the garage of the Kimball. How’d you make the discovery
to confirm your thoughts? How did you get cleaned up the claim the piece?
Well, I mean, the it was confirmed by Patrick new, okay. And it had this other guy. Yeah. What Robert
deal with the other name, David Ross.
Oh, David Roberts. So everyone asked, Well, what about David Roberts? Well, that that was a fake signature. And it’s incredibly ironic, because David Roberts has always been less valuable than bonnington. So a fake David Roberts signature was painted on an authentic byington. And we know the whole entire early history of the painting, binding to never sign these oil sketches. And when he died, the contents of the studio was sold. And we know the early history it was sold at an auction in 1835. And bought by William Beckford, this major, probably the most important collector in Britain at the time. 20 some paintings in the National Gallery in London were owned by William Bamford. And then he dies in the late 1840s. And it took seven days I believe, to auction off his collection. And I think that the identity with bonington was lost at that time because it’s an atypical subject for bonington. bonington is better known for views of Venice, like that other oil sketch, and the Campbell or for coastal scenes. And this being a church interior, the subject is a bit atypical. So I think the identification with bonington was lost at that time. And then a design is dealer probably in the late 19th, early 20th century, got the painting didn’t know who painted it. And he knew that David Roberts in addition to views of the Middle East, also painting In a, quite a few church interiors, and he wanted to attach a name to it because a painting with an unknown artist is more valuable than one that’s anonymous, usually. And so he had a signature forged stone it.
I think that when we air this video, we need to put the price tag symbol just building up on each each time. Because each one of these things you say it’s just like more rare, more rare, more rare languages.
I know this one. This was pub, this was a star telegram front page story when you guys discovered this from MAC, it was a $600,000 purchase. I believe that was authorized. We don’t talk. We don’t talk money. But that was I have heard that from good sources. But anyway, it’s a phenomenal story. So
yes, we had to work this is what’s going to happen in the when we replay.
Right. Okay, thank you for sharing that. Okay. Next up this is this is one that’s very familiar to most people weeping willow by a guy by the name of Claude Monet. Have you heard of him Brinton? He was a Frenchman. But this is pain. It’s a sad country song, I think in some, some places, circa 19 1819. So I think the story that I know about this is he painted this as kind of a homage to the end of the war into World War One he was he I guess he was sad. And he was kind of in his garden, he could hear about it going on. And absolutely,
people during the war encouraged him to leave but he refused to he stayed in Germany and he could hear the battle going on. Right and the distance in your, your exhibit, you had the Monet, the late years. I think this is one of the pieces. It was inspired by this painting. And so we have two Monet’s in the collection. We have an early Monet, in fact, the first painting that he exhibited at the salon in Paris. And then we have this great late Monet, which is in a very different style. And and so we decided several years ago to do two Monet exhibitions, one on early Monet, inspired by that early Monet that we have and then the late Monet exhibition inspired by this painting, and you know, so yes, it was the inspiration talk about this guy.
So the next piece this one was your first acquisition, and quite possibly your biggest because it really put a put you I mean, forgive me for cheapening this, but it puts you on the map in a really big way because of what it is. which one I think it is. He already knows the torment of St. Anthony. It was it was acquired in 2009. Right after you got here got to the Kimball. It’s this is Michelangelo’s, I think I’m saying this correctly, his first piece, he was aged 12 or 13. When he
painted it was his first painting, first painting and it’s showing fortitude as well is right. Yes, the acquisition of this painting was one of the luckiest things that ever happened to me. I just couldn’t believe that we’re able to acquire this. This is the only painting by Michelangelo in the Americas. And it was his first painting. It’s extremely well documented in the early sources. And and that’s why we know that it’s it’s it’s Michelangelo, but I learned about this my second day on the job at the Kimball went up to New York with our conserver Claire Barry met with the curators and conservator at the mat and and we ultimately were able to buy this. And it’s just amazing how many years into the job at the Kimbo where you and you do this. I learned about it my second day on the job, which was in March of 2009. your headphones working written because and well I just and then I kept thinking this is just it’s just unbelievable.
I’m just trying to think of where you got this dream job that you wanted. And then this happens in such a short timeframe.
It was I couldn’t believe it. At the time. I thought I was gonna get to put front end stuff like this. I got you. I got you.
I’ve seen this several more than several times. It’s a very small piece. It’s almost if you weren’t looking for it, you’d have to stumble onto it. Because if you don’t it was you didn’t know. It’s incredible how small it is. But how detailed it isn’t. Just to stand in front of it. It’s It’s It’s a goosebump right. I
mean, it’s absolutely. And the thing is before we bought it there, it was a lost painting and rediscovery. That’s why we were able to it would have been in a museum hundreds of years ago if if it had not been lost. And when we bought it, there was a divide among people who either believe that it was by Michelangelo and then some who did not. And it was sold and given an export license from England. And so in general at the beginning there was a divide between American art historians and English art historians. English did not believe it, the Americans did. And, and then when it was cleaned and studied at the mat, changes, the descript, detailed descriptions of the painting from, from the 16th century, make us know that this painting either has to be the original or ultra copy after after the original. And then when it was cleaned and study changes that the artists made were all over the painting. And it became clear that this was not a copy after another work. And, and I remember asking Keith Christianson, the former chair of European paintings of the man who just retired last month, how sure he was that isn’t Michelangelo, he said, I’m absolutely 100% certain, but it’ll take 20 years for there to be a consensus. And, and so when we first but the painting on view at the Met because you wanted as many people to see it as possible, and more people would see it in New York, initially, then in Fort Worth. It was very nerve wracking because you didn’t know how what the reaction would be. And it was enormously positive. It was given one painting exhibition at the Met. And it got a huge attendance that summer, the summer of 2009.
What did you get in return from the mat? Did you get a good?
The bad has been incredibly generous lenders to us. They always are. So were their close friends. So good Kimball’s. But then. So there were still some doubters, about that attribution. I was so pleased, though, that most people believe that thing is before we bought bought it, we tried to come up with every convincing argument against the attribution. And we couldn’t come up with a single argument against it. And, and so, but I said to myself at the time, if we don’t buy it, and it ends up being Michelangelo, I’ll regret it for the rest of my life. But it would be 100 times worse. If we bought it ended up not being Michelangelo. And, but I was very pleased with with the outcome. But then, six years after we had bought the painting, this fantastic discovery was made. underneath the surface of the painting Archons conservator had seen for years, these scribble marks underneath the paint surface. She had seen them in infrared images and x rays. But she couldn’t decipher what these scribble marks were. And then new technology has been invented a new type of camera camera, it’s called a hyperspectral camera. And john Delaney, this conservation scientist at the National Gallery of Art came he’s the guru with this technology. There was a videographer like that. Well, he came out to the Campbell and got better images of this Doodle, basically. And it became clear what it was, it was a very quick compositional sketch, it couldn’t have taken more than 15 or 20 seconds to do, but a very quick compositional sketch of this fresco in Florence, in the church of Santa Maria novella, and that’s the exact fresco that the artist girl in dias studio was said to be working on when Michelangelo and the girl in nio studio was said to have painted this painting. And it it, it couldn’t be about attribution can be quite as amazing.
You came up with the evidence that no one not only did you get like all of these great events, but then to have the evidence this but
it also it’s amazing that we had the painting for six years and something as important as that we didn’t know about until this new technology was created. Because you knew in your heart It was the real thing. So he did. Yes. And it was yes. And we we knew it had to be and it’s but before we bought it we were as critical as we possibly could be.
So we if you had to put a price on this. I know you can’t talk price. What would this be worth on open market? Is it Are we talking 30 4050? Is it much greater than that? 3040 50 million. Oh, thank you. Thanks for the price. Can you speak to that or is that untouchable?
I will tell you that the truth I don’t know what it would bring. There’s there’s there’s nothing like this that has been sold. I mean, Michelangelo his Michelangelo paintings quite frankly are rarer than Leonardo’s and therefore easel paintings by Michelangelo. And He’s, he’s one of the most important artists in the history of art right?
Unfortunately, you have to keep move on to the last piece. I know we could talk about the art and the Kimball for days because there’s plenty to speak of. We could only do six on the show. But the last piece is probably the most known piece that the Kimball owns a Caravaggio as an Italian painter. This is the Cardsharps. Most people recognize this image, circa 1595. And I know it’s one of the most important pieces in Western art GW in Britain pilling cards with Eric
Yes, I mean, this painting is an absolute landmark in the history of art. And this is the painting that we believe more or less established Caravaggio’s reputation. He painted this when he was a fairly unknown painter working in Rome, and a major collector saw it and an art dealer shop he bought it invited Caravaggio to live in his plot so and arrange for important commissions in churches in Rome. And Caravaggio was one of the most influential artists and best known artists working in Rome from that point on, and he created a new type of style. That was as I said, very influential. And, and so later artists like Rembrandt would not look like the Rembrandt we know today, if not for Caravaggio, Rembrandt may never have seen an actual painting by Caravaggio, but his style was transmitted to the Netherlands through followers of Caravaggio, and and so Caravaggio style had a huge impact on Rembrandt and in so many other artists. So you know, this, this is just such an important painting. And the story of its acquisition by the Kimble is sort of like the Michelangelo’s story. We know because it was so famous. After it was painted, it was copied dozens and dozens and dozens of times. And we know everything about the early history of the painting, we know which wall in which bill out so it was hanging on until the 1890s. And then, then owner sold it. And the city of Rome accuse the seller of illegally exporting it, there was a trial in the city of Rome ended up granting the export license under the condition that number of paintings be given to Roman museums. And and so that happened, that painting disappeared for almost 100 years. But every few years, a painting would show up one of the copies, and it would be presented as the original and they were always shot down until this painting appeared. And as I said, the 1980s. And the painting was shown to Well, I believe curators at the Met saw it and I think that they thought at first that it was one of the copies. And I think curators at the Getty saw it and they thought it was one of the copies. And then it was shown to Ted Pillsbury at the Kimball, who saw it with john Brealey, the conservator at the Met and they thought that it was the original and, and the Kimble entered an agreement in which the Kimball had first right of refusal, but would be allowed to clean it and study it, which is what happened. And and then, like the Michelangelo changes that the artists made appeared all appeared in the painting, indicating that it was the original. the smoking gun came when an old lining on the back of the canvas was removed. In the seal of Cardinal Del Monte then documented original owner was found on the back. And we always said that was the smoking gun. And with the Michelangelo, I said it the rediscovery of the Michelangelo is so much like the Caravaggio, but it lacked that smoking gun until that doodle was identified and that that’s the smoking gun. So Michelangelo,
I mean, this is my mind’s going to like watching a spaceship take off in in the NASA control room and you guys are all around here. I had no idea that there was this much kind of Mystique and then competitiveness clearly because you have these museums almost not competing. But But you know, as you said that the Getty passed it on in the Mecca, and then all of a sudden we get it here. And you’ve got guys that have said, No, no, we think it’s the one we can prove it. And then there you see the shuttle lifting off. I mean, that’s got to be a great moment. Not I mean, not only professionally but in a personal sense, too, right?
Oh, abs it’s so satisfying when something like this is proven to be right. And, and the Caravaggio it’s also it’s it’s amazing that a painting that important It’d be acquired in the 1980s. But that’s the thing about the Kimball. When you walk around the Kimball it’s unbelievable what the accurate acquisition dates are. When the Kimball opened in 1972. So many people said, well, it’s too late to form a truly great collection. It’s just too late for that. But the Kimble has proven time and again, that that simply is not true. And the Kimball has had incredible luck, and in what it’s been able to acquire,
so we’re leaving for Vegas this afternoon. Would you like to join us? Because I believe that absolutely very fruitful. Eric Lang and I have very good luck after appearing on the show, as you said,
Everyone does we have enjoyed your time? Not Not quite yet, Brinton. But our last question we ask all of our guests okay. Besides any familiar affairs, wife, children, we know you have kids, you had kids at Trinity valley where we both attended, but besides familiar affairs, what it was the best day of your whole life. Not family, not family, not family. I chose to bring it back around to some baptism or some kid getting married with no no family and just the best day of your personal life
when I learned I had the Kimble job. What a great answer. Oh, boy should get a big bonus for that.
That is to have you the Kimball’s grateful we love you. Thank you for being on the show. Mr. Eric Lee. Thank you, Eric.