LACMA's Collectors Committee bought $2 million worth of art for the museum this past weekend. See coverage in Unframed and the Los Angeles Times. The big news is a 39-piece collection of Tibetan furniture; a signed screen of a tiger by Kano Sansetsu; and contemporary works by Glenn Ligon and John Baldessari. In comparison, some may scratch their heads at another buy, an 1879 Portrait of Madame Paul Duchesne-Fournet (detail, above right) by the French academic painter Jean-Jacques Henner. Some older American museums have Henners, but they sure as hell didn't buy them. They were given them long ago, after the death of the aristocratic sitters. As modernism took hold, the Henners were judged deeply irrelevant and consigned to the storeroom. Why is European curator J. Patrice Marandel interested in Henner? One theory is the Fabiola Bump.
Retrospectives always boost interest in an artist. Henner hasn't had a retrospective, but he was an offstage presence in a well-received, Dia Foundation-organized show that came to LACMA in 2008: "Francis Alÿs: Fabiola." Alÿs has collected 300-some amateur copies of Saint Fabiola, a once-famous, now lost, painting by Henner. Marandel organized the exhibition for LACMA. Of course, the show was about clever postmodern Alÿs goofing off poor academic Henner, butt of a joke he'd never understand. But in an age where Tina Fey can boost interest in Sarah Palin, there's no such thing as bad publicity for a forgotten artist.