Acquisitions: Huntington

Unknown Japanese artist, scroll depicting Matthew Perry's first expedition to Japan, after 1853. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens
Last month the Huntington Library Collectors' Council bought two Japanese scrolls recording U.S. Navy Commodore Matthew Perry's 1853 and 1854 expeditions to Japan. Perry's nominal mission, of delivering a letter from President Millard Fillmore to the Emperor of Japan, was a pretext for gunboat diplomacy. It led to the coerced 1854 Treaty of Kanagawa opening Japan to foreign trade. The momentous events were noted in Japanese prints, but the Huntington scrolls include uniquely detailed renderings of the American "black ships" (named for their black smoke); portraits of Perry and his chief of staff; depictions of American technology and weapons.

Mary Ann and John Sturgeon have given the Huntington a Pieter de Molijn painting, Dune Landscape with Travelers Resting. Born in London, de Molijn may have studied with pioneering Dutch landscapist Esaias van de Velde. Along with Jan van Goyen, de Molijn came to epitomize Dutch empiricism. His landscapes discarded the gimmickry of mannerism, showing the Dutch countryside in its mundane splendor.

Dune Landscape was installed at the Huntington before the COVID lockdown. It becomes the only De Molijn in a local collection. 
Pieter de Molijn, Dune Landscape with Travelers Resting, early to mid-17th century. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens


Zack said…
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Zack said…

How nice! These are probably the most interesting acquisitions out of the group you’ve discussed this week. It’s nice to see that the Huntington is adding to its collection unique objects with an interesting story.
Anonymous said…
... I wonder if this is the same de Molijn painting that did not sell at auction in 2005, with a low estimate of 20,000 pounds. It was the property of an estate. If it is the same painting, it must have been acquired by the donors in a private sale.
Here is the auction entry:

It is curious also that the Huntington dates the painting as 17th-century, but gives no specific year. It matters because for connoisseurs the date usually denotes the level of desirability. This is how the Journal of Historians of Netherlandish Art summarizes the problem:
"Nevertheless, art historians such as Wolfgang Stechow have suggested that his paintings after 1630 were old-fashioned, lacked originality, and exhibited no further artistic development, and therefore they typify him as merely an epigone of Jan van Goyen and Salomon van Ruisdael."

See full article at this link:

To put dollar signs on the difference in desirability between a primary and secondary Dutch landscape painter of this group and also the difference in desirability between this group and that of a blue-chip contemporary artist, here are the highest, recent prices I could find for Molijn, van Goyen, van Ruisdael, and on the contemporary side Jonas Wood (the artist whose painting MOCA acquired).

De Molijn - $50,000 for another Dune Landscape with traveler... (Christie’s). (This landscape is more desert-like with storm clouds.)

van Goyen - $650,000 for A Winter Landscape with Figures... (Christie’s)

van Ruysdael - $880,000 for Winter Landscape with Figures Skating… (Sotheby’s)

Wood - $4.9 million for Japanese Garden 3 (Christie’s)
Anonymous said…
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Anonymous said…
> Nevertheless, art historians such as Wolfgang Stechow
> have suggested that his paintings after 1630 were
> old-fashioned, lacked originality, and exhibited no
> further artistic development

Does that even matter?

After all, the dunderhead in charge of LA's main publicly owned and operated (supposedly) visual-arts institution says that the word "masterpiece" doesn't necessarily apply to artworks in today's world.
Anonymous said…
Blithe spirits at LACMA (and the Hammer).
Anonymous said…
Great news. Construction for LACMA's new building officially starts.
Anonymous said…
Sure, Jan.
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Anonymous said…
J. Patrice Marandel's portion of the Apollo Magazine article reveals quite a bit about the present (and probably future) poor state of affairs at LACMA, and is actually very sad to read.
Anonymous said…
^^^ On the contrary, I would argue that Mirandel reveals very little. It appears he does not know much about Zumthor's practice (how he designs building) or the recent advances in museum practice.

... Mirandel suggests that Zumthor's design has been compromised. But that is NOT how Zumthor works. In various interviews, Zumthor has asserted that if he's not happy with the design he keeps reworking it. If Zumthor thinks the design is ready to proceed to construction, this must be the best version of the design. See this interview ---

... Mirandel claims that recruitment of "young" curators will be difficult because of the lack of dedicated exhibition space for departments and the lack of onsite storage. If that is the case, why is it that MOMA has no recruitment problem? MOMA stores its collection offsite. MOMA also has moved away from a "departmental" presentation of its collection, to a more "intersectional" approach.

As to the rest, no museum can show 100% of its collection. No expansion will ever accomplish that.

Given the "fruits" of Mirandel's relationship with the Ahmanson, a bunch of second-tier paintings, I seriously doubt that the relationship was the "envy of colleagues".

As to honoring the wish of donors, it's never been a best practice to give donors curatorial control. Mr. Mirandel should know that. That he does not is sad to read.
Anonymous said…
You're not even spelling J. Patrice Marandel's last name correctly.

Then again, aren't you the one who sympathizes with the deadly duo of Michael Govan and Peter Zumthor? The idiots who are to culture and public institutions (at least in Los Angeles) what the Sars-Cov-2 Virus is to human health and the economy?

There's hopefully a nice little warm space in hell reserved for dunderhead Michael Govan.

By the way, that article in Apollo magazine merely reaffirms what a tone-deaf, irresponsible, mother---king idiot he is.
Anonymous said…
To the poster who keeps referring to the Ahmanson gifts as "second tier" works- Do you actually know anything about old master paintings? No one, and I mean no one, who has any art historical knowledge, would call the Georges de la Tour "Magdalene with the Smoking Flame" a "second tier" work. The same could be said about both paintings by Rembrandt, the Frans Hals, the Michael Sweerts, the Bernini sculpture, the Houdon sculpture, both paintings by Guido Reni....the list could go on. Yes, they actually are the envy of just about any curator of European art. LACMA would never have been able to acquire any of them with out the Ahmanson Foundation, considering the lack of any old master painting collector of note in Los Angeles over the last 50 years (my apologies to the Resnicks- I think they have a fine collection, but it is limited in scope and ambition, and they collect within a certain well defined area).

You also confuse the Ahmanson Foundation's rightful concern over the display of their gifts with them wanting curatorial control. They have never in their almost 50 year relationship with LACMA made any demands on the display of their donation, and they aren't doing that now, either. They are rightfully questioning the desirability of continuing to purchase European paintings for the collection if for the majority of time they will never be on display, whether alone or in the context of the greater collection. The bottom line in all of this, is not Zumthor's design itself, it is the fact that due to Michael Govan's demand for ideological purity that everything be on one level, which will vastly diminish the amount of space in which any art can be displayed. This effects not just the Ahmanson gifts, or the old master painting collection, but all the collections at LACMA, western and non-western, old master and contemporary, alike.

You might be the owner of a collection of contemporary art of such value and importance that one of your biggest dilemmas is to which institution will receive your donation, but your constant denigration of art of which you have so little knowledge of marks you out to be an ignorant elitist.

Anonymous said…
Anonymous said…
> due to Michael Govan's demand for ideological
> purity that everything be on one level, which
> will vastly diminish the amount of space in
> which any art can be displayed. This effects
> not just the Ahmanson gifts, or the old master
> painting collection, but all the collections
> at LACMA, western and non-western, old master
> and contemporary, alike.

There is so much that's bad and wrong about LACMA's dunderhead director, that the pile of Zumthor concrete is but the tip of the iceberg.

To take a public institution that has taken decades to shape and create - in a city that for most of its existence embarrassingly lacked a major encyclopedic-type art museum - and destroy it on the pyre of Govan's vanity and idiocy goes beyond arrogance, insolence and irresponsibility.

Govan is the Darth Vader of an improving, evolving, maturing community. He needs to be kicked out of Los Angeles.
Anonymous said…
Anonymous said…
To the poster who thinks the Ahmanson Rembrandt, Bernini, and others are the "envy of just about any curator of European art,” HOW WOULD YOU KNOW? ...Throwing out artist's names as if they are brands with ready-made value is not convincing.

… Here's just one example of your ignorance and foolish affection for brand names:

… With the Ahmanson Rembrandt or any painting, for that matter, it is advisable when judging the relative value of the work to start by examining other versions of the same painting or drawings/prints with the same subject matter. In this case, there is a print with the same subject matter (the Lazarus story); it was completed 2 years later. The print brings Christ out of the shadows and into the light by placing him in the middle of the composition. This is significant for at least two reasons: (1) the more balanced treatment of light and shadow and (2) the leveling of the Christ figure, making him appear more of this world. It’s a compositional and stylistic choice that will be fully formalized in paintings such as The Supper at Emmaus (Louvre). That’s a first-tier painting in large part because it fully expresses the pictorial aims one glimpses in the print. From the Ahmanson painting, we get almost no indication of the original choices Rembrandt will make — not the composition, not the balance of light and shadow, not the color palette. That’s why the Ahmanson Rembrandt is a second-tier painting.

As I said, Rembrandt is just a brand name to you. You wouldn't know the difference between a fake or an authentic one, not even in terms of its composition. This "stuff" is all the same to you. They are just brand names, like the monogram on your purse.

… On that note, you are also fooling yourself with the claim that the Ahmanson did not demand curatorial control and that its interests were purely ecumenical. The Ahmanson wanted a promise from LACMA that ALL its gifts of EUROPEAN art would be on display in the new building. That amounts to curatorial control. With that promise, there never would have been the question, as you put it, of “the desirability of continuing to purchase European paintings for the collection.” There’s a question only because LACMA did not meet the Ahmanson’s demands for curatorial control, explicit or not. Moreover, there’s a question because the Ahmanson felt insulted by Govan’s request that the Ahmanson fund purchases of Latin American Art.

Indeed, if anyone has some ideological purity to uphold, it’s the Ahmanson and you. Where does the demand for more space originate? Why do you assume it’s a rational response to the problem? The problem of what exactly? …Have you ever considered any of these questions? Or, are you so blithely unaware to think that the lack of space is the cause of the problem and not itself the effect of something more "causal" in nature? Suffice it to say that the real problem is the museum model (i.e., the encyclopedic museum) which drives the need for space because it presumes that with more space (more objects on display) will come more understanding of the metaphysical unity that ties the works together. The demand for space is simply an alibi for that way of modeling politics and history within a museum. It rationalizes what would otherwise be indefensible --- from colonial plunder to a sense of order which discriminates between cultures, from insider-trading to buildings that usurp more and more public space...

In fact, I sometimes wonder if the Save-LACMA mob disapproves of the new building and curatorial practice not so much because they want space for everything, but more so because they know deep down and they implicitly consent to the fact that the encyclopedic museum and its fortress-like architecture privilege by definition European painting and identity and are less inviting to everyone else.
...So, before you call someone else an “ignorant elitist", check your own knowledge for its “bliss” and your own ideas for their purity and deception.
Anonymous said…
Since we are all "anonymous" it is hard to distinguish who I am responding to, but I think it will be clear- "Mr or Ms Second Tier Ahmanson Gifts". You betray your entire flawed argument in your second to last paragraph above - "the encyclopedic museum and its fortress-like architecture privilege by definition European painting and identity" So, you are as much of an ideologue as Michael Govan. The quality of the art, or the experience of an encyclopedic museum doesn't matter, just take down that old western privilege a notch and that'll show 'em.

How exactly does an encyclopedic museum "privilege" European art? Would you rather museums be narrowly focused, like the Getty? They don't collect non-western art at all. Is that what you are after? Or how about segregating art, like the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco? Now, there is nothing wrong with museums that focus on a narrow range of art, whether it be by geographical area, culture, time period, etc. Just as there is nothing wrong with a museum wanting to collect from various cultures around the world and show art as the highest product of the human imagination.

You keep throwing out the word "brands" with out addressing the points I make. Would the Houdon or Bernini sculptures that the Ahmanson donated be desired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or the National Gallery of Art (Washington) or the Louvre? Do you think if those institutions owned them they would be put in storage? Of course they wouldn't. I don't use those examples because somehow they are "brands". I use them because they are first rate examples of their art. You have done absolutely nothing to prove that they are "second tier".

I still ask you the question, which curator of European art, either here in North America or Europe, would agree with you? Name one. Which art historian would agree with you, that the Ahmanson gifts are "second tier"? Which ones? Name them. What do you have to back up your claims? Why have so many of the Ahmanson gifts been in international exhibitions, some with an extensive literature? Why would that be if they were "second tier"? I get it. You have some kind of grudge against European culture. It's too "privileged" Ideology and art don't mix well. History has shown it leads to all kinds of unfortunate outcomes.
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To Mr. or Ms. Everything-Is-A-Masterpiece-By-A-Brand-Name,

On the Encyclopedic Museum:

The encyclopedic museum is a cultural construct. It was more or less invented by Europeans in Paris and Vienna in the early 19th century to establish and promote their national identities. It's never shed that legacy because its underlying logic (that of the great chain of being) is bound by a hierarchical/metaphysical exigency as I tried to explain above. In the great chain of being, God (the metaphysical unity) was at the top of the chain and everything below was arranged according to lines of gradation, the closer to God the better of course. The first encyclopedic museums substituted European masterpieces for God, but otherwise the sense of order was fundamentally the same with the same lines of gradation between artworks and the assumption of chronological completeness. By the early 20th-century, encyclopedic museums further refined the sense of order in galleries, giving us the “hero” wall and integrating all the disciplines, but nothing much changed since the "masterpieces" were still European in origin and definition and everything else was more or less treated like a cultural artifact or archaeological object.

One of the first directors of LACMA, William Valentiner brought that sense of order to the fledgling LACMA collections. He was a student of Wilhelm von Bode who with Valentiner created a fetish for masterpieces among American collectors, specifically masterpieces by Rembrandt, many of which were later proven to be fakes. Makes one wonder what they actually knew about “masterpieces”.

In any case, the long and short of it is that knowledge and power are spatially-situated. As I have tried to show, the encyclopedic museum does not just contain art; it contains deep within it some geopolitical set of relations. The philosopher Bergson was perhaps the first to call our attention to the general problem of “hidden” spatialities, but Heidegger (the rootedness of cosmopolitanism) and Foucault (carceral logic) followed.

On Connoisseurship.

Here is Marandel (former LACMA curator) on the subject of second-tier works and secondary artists:

"We [the Ahmanson Foundation and Mirandel] work together in a very pleasant manner. I do not have a budget. Each purchase is presented individually and the Foundation’s Board of Directors votes on it. So far, I have never been turned down. I know that the Foundation will not buy probably works that are going today for 20 or 30 million euros, but they are immensely generous and make my work very pleasant for me. This foundation is not obsessed with big names. Instead of the modest Caravaggio works which recently appeared on the market, I preferred for example to suggest purchasing Caravaggesque paintings of high quality : Honthorst, Saraceni, Valentin or Baglione."


By modest, Marandel means "second-tier." If you are not spending 20 to 30 million Euros in this category, you are not going to get anything but a "second-tier" Caravaggio, or a modest David, or a modest anything else. Moreover, lacking a Caravaggio, you are forced to tell the history of Baroque painting with a La Tour who in some ways is derivative --- good in his own right, but still not the primary artist of this period in the Italian style. So, you are fooling yourself if you think this approach is going to result in a collection of first-tier works by primary artists. What you might expect instead is “Caravaggesque paintings of high quality,” meaning works by secondary painters of high quality. By and large, that is what Mirandel was seeking and what the Ahmanson was willing to buy. It appears the only expert I needed to prove my point was Marandel himself.

[More on the Met and Louvre below...]
Anonymous said…
To Mr. or Ms. Everything-Is-A-Masterpiece-By-A-Brand-Name,

On the Met and the Louvre and what they would do with the Ahmanson paintings:

You can undertake for yourself to place every Ahmanson gift in the other collections. Given ample room, a small number might make the cut, but none of them would be a “must hang". The Met has a much better Reni (on an important subject too), one of the best portraits by David (that of Lavoisier), its own version of the La Tour painting (plus another in a more original style), a figural/mythological group by Bernini, an actual Carravaggio, and a large number of Rembrandts, all of which are much better than the Ahmanson Rembrandt, including a much better religious painting. When a work is not a “must hang", it is more likely to go on rotation or remain in storage at museums like the Met and Louvre, especially in departments where the collection is vey strong. Both are very strong in European painting, which accounts for all of the Ahmanson gifts. If the Ahmanson had decided to collect in areas where the Louvre and Met were weak, and their collections do have weaknesses (e.g., British Art for the Louvre), their gifts to LACMA might have been more significant to those other museums.

Now, there’s an idea. The Ahmanson should take Govan’s advice and fund purchases in Latin American Art. But, of course, they are better than, er… too Eurocentric for that.
Anonymous said…
Who the hell cares about whether things are centric this, centric that? Just display goddamn artworks that reflect the skills and talents - and interests and aspirations - of humans going back thousands of years.

Stop with the head-in-the-clouds (or head-up-the-butt) approach to so-called connoisseur. Or whatever.

Oh, by the way, Govan is a frigging fool and idiot.
Anonymous said…
To "Mr or Ms Second Tier Ahmanson Gifts" - Thank you for your tedious discourse on the origins of the encyclopedic museum. What is your point? And what is your solution to this "problem"? Should they be closed down? Their collections sold?

You seem to be the one hung up on the idea of "brand names", not me. You mention the two Georges de la Tour paintings in the Met. Neither of them is the equal to the Ahmanson de la Tour at LACMA. Of the four versions of the "Magdalene with the Smoking Flame", the one in the National Gallery in Washington and the one in LACMA are by far the superior versions. "The Fortune Teller" by de la Tour at the Met is a mess of a painting, and although by an important artist, is no where near a masterpiece, and has even been claimed to be a forgery by some due to how poorly it is painted. I've never claimed that all the Ahmanson paintings are masterpieces, and I've never claimed that all of them are first rate (the Phillips Konnick is decidedly inferior, the "Van Dyck" is no longer attributed to Van Dyck, and the Mazzanti is by a very minor artist). But the majority of them are first rate paintings by important artists that illustrate the development of European art. If you took away the Ahmanson paintings, the ability to view, study, and be inspired by European paintings would be much diminished in Southern California.

You also seem to misunderstand the point that Marandel was making in his interview. You are so wrapped up with "brand" names that you literally cannot understand what he was saying. You put words in his mouth by saying his use of the term "modest" means he admits they are second tier. A private collector might spend large sums on a "brand" name, but that does not guarantee quality. This is especially common in the market for contemporary art- artists that are hot can command big prices, but that does not ensure that in the longer view of things that they are the best art of the period. The late nineteenth century saw huge prices for paintings by the academic artists, because they were the "brand" names of the day, and the impressionist and post-impressionist art that we realize today is of prime art historical importance was ignored. As a curator, Marandel was correct in pursuing high quality works by artists who are not household ("brand") names, such as Saraceni, Sweerts, de Bray, etc, rather than acquire second rate works by more famous names.

The supply of first rate old master paintings available to museums to purchase is quite limited, yet you speak as if those kinds of masterpieces come on the market all the time and LACMA's curators, thru the Ahmanson Foundation, simply failed to acquire them. You mentioned Caravaggio, and the lack of one in the Ahmanson gifts. Tell me, how many first rate Caravaggio paintings have come on the market in the last 40 years? Even if the Ahmanson Foundation had been willing and able to pay $30,000,000 for one, none have been available. I have never implied that the old master painting collection assembled by the Ahmanson Foundation over the last 40 years is superior to or equal to some of the long standing collections assembled over the last 150 years. It is simply not possible to assemble such a collection in today's market. Is is unfair of you to compare the Ahmanson gifts to the Louvre or National Gallery in London. But, how many museums, either here or in Europe, have been able to acquire a similar collection of old masters in the last 40 years? The answer is very few. I still make my claim, that the Ahmanson Collection is a first rate collection of old master paintings, and I dare you to name a curator, scholar, art historian, dealer, or auction house, that would agree with you? Name your names.
Anonymous said…
^^^Late to this argument. But I worked for one of the major auction houses and had to keep track of these things. There's been a lot that has come to market over the last 40 years. There was a Botticelli in 1982, a Rafael portrait in 2007, a Rafael drawing in 2009, a Rubens painting in 2016... Yes, there's a supply problem. But in the 40 years which you noted, it not as impossible as you make it seem.

As to Marandel quote above, it seems the key word is "Caravaggesque." Sorry, but that does not connote primary importance. In fact, I find it funny that a curator would use this world at all. It's a word one often sees in lot descriptions. It's affect there is promotional, not intellectual. When a lot description says a painting is Caravaggesque, it's trying to sell a painting, not curate one.

On that note, it would appear that every auction house and dealer agrees with the claim that it's NOT a first rate collection of old master paintings. Again, take note what Marandel says himself. They did not pay top dollar for these works. If the dealers and auction houses thought these were the best of the best, the works would have been priced accordingly.

And, that's not the case (as you try to argue) because these artists are waiting to be discovered. The situation is NOT comparable at all to the current period (contemporary art) because there's been enough time for a proper reconsideration of the "old masters" period (13th to 18th century) to know which are the primary and secondary artists.

Finally, there is nothing more tedious than saying over and over again that it's a first-rate collection when it's clear there are glaring holes and omissions. As has been noted above, the collection does not include a Caravaggio. What else is missing? Is there a Rafael? How about a Botticelli? Sorry but the inclusion of Saraceni, Sweerts, and de Bray does not make up for what's not there.