The National Gallery of Art on Monday acquired a trove of eight early-modern European master paintings, including a self-portrait by Vincent van Gogh, from the estate of Betsey Cushing Roosevelt Whitney, who died last week at 89. The paintings also include a Toulouse-Lautrec, a Matisse, a Braque and a Dufy.
"The gift contains several masterpieces of almost unique stature," said Earl A. Powell III, director of the gallery. He officially learned of the bequest Monday from Whitney's attorney. "We have great Toulouse-Lautrecs, but nothing like this. We have Matisses, wonderful Matisses, but this sort of rounds it out."
Whitney, who in 1940 divorced James Roosevelt, son of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was the widow of publisher John Hay "Jock" Whitney, a gallery trustee from 1961 to 1979. The couple's collection is considered one of the most important of 19th and 20th century art; they lent 73 works to the gallery in 1983 for a special exhibition.
In 1982 Jock Whitney gave the gallery eight American and French paintings, as well as $2 million. In 1990, Betsey Whitney sold Renoir's "At the Moulin de la Galette" for $78 million, then a record price for Impressionist art.
Over the years the Museum of Modern Art in New York as well as the museum at Yale University were beneficiaries of the Whitneys' generosity. The MoMA was notified Monday, according to a museum official, that Whitney left it an early self-portrait by Picasso, a Matisse, a Cezanne and a van Gogh, as well as other paintings.
"Self-Portrait," the National Gallery's first van Gogh of that sort, brings its holdings of the popular master up to nine. "With this van Gogh joining the 'White Roses' that Ambassador [Pamela] Harriman gave, our presentation of the artist is one of the best," said an obviously pleased Powell.
The painting, done in September 1889, will not be included in the highly anticipated retrospective of the artist that opens at the gallery in the fall. The legal paperwork usually takes awhile, Powell said.
The Toulouse-Lautrec, known as "Chilperic," is a portrait of the actress Marcelle Lender, who played the Spanish bride of the French king Chilperic in a popular comic operetta.