Walters Museum: Jane Meyerhoff's floral still lifes collection will be donated to the Walters Art Museum by philanthropist Robert Meyerhoff.
Jane Meyerhoff loved flowers, but she was allergic to their fragrance and couldn't have them in the house.
In 1991, she hit upon a substitute that fed her love for beauty without making her ill. She bought nearly two dozen blooms created by some of history's greatest artists and hung them on her dining room walls.
It's a solution that will benefit Baltimore residents for decades after real-life blossoms would have dropped.
Meyerhoff died in 2004, but the 21 intimate watercolors, pastels and drawings that she collected by such masters as Paul Cezanne, Henri Matisse, Eugene Delacroix and Rene Magritte will be given to the Walters Art Museum at an as-yet-undetermined date by her husband, Robert Meyerhoff.
The Walters — which Jane Meyerhoff first visited as a girl — announced the gift Thursday and added that three works will go on display immediately. Joseph Stella's "Waterlily" (1944), Magritte's "L'éclair" (1959) and Andy Warhol's "Hand With Flowers" (1956) can be found on the fourth floor of the Centre Street building through June 24. (Observant viewers may notice that Warhol mischievously gives the hand holding the bouquet a sixth digit.)
The florals were previously displayed in their entirety at the Walters in a 2007 focus exhibition.
"What I would celebrate is that these works are staying in Baltimore," said Gary Vikan, the Walters' director. He declined to estimate the value of the 21 pieces but said that museums worldwide would be happy to own them.
"It's a big community service," he said. "They aren't simply wonderful works. It's a wonderful collection by some of the giants of modern art."
Vikan had long admired the works on paper, which he saw while dining with the Meyerhoffs at their estate.
"The florals were an integral part of the Meyerhoffs' house, as distinct from the Lichtensteins and the Stellas, which each have their own pavilion," Vikan said.
"You'd be sitting at lunch, looking over someone's shoulder, and there would be a Magritte or a Mondrian. It's fun, because unlike a museum, they weren't labeled, and you'd see surprising things.
"For instance, both Max Weber and Cezanne painted geraniums, and they were kind of similar. There's nothing that makes you appreciate how spectacular Cezanne was than seeing a work by a great painter hanging next to one by an artist who was very good."
Robert Meyerhoff said in a news release: "I think that Jane would have been very pleased that these works are being donated to the Walters Art Museum. She admired the Walters very much." Reached by phone, he declined to comment further.
This is the Meyerhoffs' first big gift to the Walters, Vikan said, though the couple has made major contributions to other area museums.
In 2008, it was announced that the National Gallery of Art in Washington has been pledged 265 of Robert Meyerhoff's artworks upon the philanthropist's death. The National Gallery also plans to convert the Baltimore County estate into a satellite museum that will be open to the public.
Given that largesse, officials at the Washington museum are not perturbed that the florals will move to the Walters.
Those 21 pieces "have never been part of the Meyerhoffs' planned gift to the National Gallery of Art," spokeswoman Deborah Ziska said.
Similarly, the Baltimore Museum of Art expressed not one whit of envy about Thursday's announcement, even if the larger institution, and not the Walters, is known for its holdings in postimpressionist and modern masterworks.
In the past, the Meyerhoffs have donated 20 artworks to the BMA, including a major work by Robert Rauschenberg, according to Jay Fisher, the museum's deputy director of curatorial affairs.
He added that the Walters, not the BMA, is known nationwide for its collection of still lifes. And he said the gift is important because it brings to Baltimore certain types of works — drawings by Magritte, Mondrian and Salvador Dali — that had not been owned by either arts organization.
"I think the Meyerhoffs thought very carefully about what would be the best place to give their artworks," Fisher said.
"I'm just thrilled that they're coming to Baltimore. I'm delighted that if we want to borrow one of these drawings, they'll be available for people here to see."