LACMA Given Bouquet of Dutch Masterpieces

Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has landed a multimillion-dollar gift that director Andrea Rich believes is its most valuable acquisition: 11 Dutch landscapes, seascapes, cityscapes and still lifes from the 17th and 18th centuries, donated by museum trustee Hannah Carter.

Museum officials plan to announce the gift today and put the works on display immediately.

Though the 11 artists’ names are unfamiliar to most museum-goers, authorities say they dominated a key period in the evolution of European painting, and by many estimates the Carter family has built the best collection of Dutch paintings in private hands anywhere.

“It really makes us jump,” said J. Patrice Marandel, chief curator of the Center for European Art at LACMA. Apart from the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art’s receiving a bequest of more than $1 billion worth of Impressionist and Postimpressionist masterworks from publishing magnate Walter Annenberg late last year, Marandel said, no American museum has received a comparable gift of European art “for decades.”


The 11 artists are Ambrosius Bosschaert; Jan van Huysum; Emanuel de Witte; Frans Post; Aelbert Cuyp Jan van de Cappelle; Willem Claesz. Heda (the sz and period typically indicate “son of”); Jacob van Ruisdael; Pieter Jansz. Saenredam; Simon de Vlieger; and Aert van de Neer. All were active between 1619 and 1724, a prosperous period full of aesthetic advances that is often called the golden age of Dutch painting.

At auction, experts say, these works would probably eclipse the $25-million, 1,800-piece Bernard and Edith Lewin Collection of Mexican art, LACMA’s last major outright gift of art, given in 1997.

The Carter gift comes on the heels of LACMA’s biggest cash donation: a $60-million commitment in June by Los Angeles businessman and philanthropist Eli Broad to underwrite a new building and contemporary art acquisitions. It ends a losing streak with high-profile trustees that goes back to the museum’s opening on Wilshire Boulevard in 1965.

Several major collectors and boosters, including industrialist Norton Simon and oil executive Armand Hammer, flirted with LACMA, sometimes even persuading the museum to store their collections for years, then ultimately founded their own museums or donated their art elsewhere.

“One of the reasons Mrs. Carter is making this gift now is to signal to other collectors who might be out there that we are a mature institution, able to handle and appreciate a first-rate collection,” Marandel said. “Let us hope this Norton Simon- Armand Hammer history is well behind us now.”

The donation is credited to Hannah Carter and her late husband, Edward W. Carter, an executive and civic leader who expanded the Broadway department store chain from three stores into an empire of more than 50 retail outlets and served as founding president of LACMA’s board in 1965. He died in 1996.

Hannah Locke Carter, a member of the 1936 and 1940 U.S. Olympic ski teams, married Edward Carter in 1963 and soon began moving in Los Angeles museum circles. She has served as a LACMA trustee since 1989.

The Carters bought most of their Dutch paintings in the 1970s, and repeatedly over the years lent works to LACMA and other museums, including the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The Carters promised their collection -- then about 30 works -- to LACMA more than two decades ago.

But instead of leaving all the works as a bequest, as many donors do, Carter called the museum in late August to propose the immediate gift of 11 works -- “first-rate masterpieces, every one,” Rich said.

“She wants to enjoy the public enjoying them.... This is what makes great institutions. Without people like this, it just doesn’t happen.”

The Carter collection’s artists were contemporaries of Rembrandt van Rijn, who chose to specialize in portraiture and religious themes. These painters instead turned to scenes of nature and daily life.

Subjects include a placid Brazilian coastal landscape (by Post), a light-flooded vision of the “The Flight Into Egypt” (by Cuyp), a great oak (by Van Ruisdael), a nearly unadorned church interior (by Saenredam) and an impossible bouquet -- a vase of vividly colored flowers, painstakingly rendered by Bosschaert, that ordinarily bloom in different seasons.

In hunting down such works, the Carters “had marvelous timing. They began to collect at a time when it was getting really difficult to get the best work by these artists. Yet time and time again, they did,” said John Walsh, director emeritus of the Getty Museum and an authority on 17th century Dutch painting. “And when they got a better example by a given artist, they got rid of the lesser one. They were always shaping the collection as they went along, and they were always thinking of the museum.”

Though curators are perennially reluctant to estimate market values, and Carter was unavailable for comment, recent auction results hint at the demand for works from this Dutch period. In July 2002, a still life by Bosschaert -- a small image of flowers, painted on copper, as is the Bosschaert in the Carter collection -- fetched $3.2 million at a Sotheby’s sale. A drawing by Cuyp went for $2.9 million at Christie’s in 2001, and a Cuyp painting sold for $6.5 million at Sotheby’s in 1994. Oil paintings by Van Huysum have sold for as much as $3.5 million.

Because most other major works of these artists are already held by museums and other institutions, experts note, acquisitions like this one are rare.

The oil paintings in the current gift, executed on canvas, wood panels and, in the case of the Bosschaert, copper, vary in size from 9 by 11 inches to 35 by 53 inches. They have been seen at LACMA at least twice already, in shows that were built around the Carters’ collection.

LACMA officials said the newly acquired works would be displayed on the second floor of LACMA’s Ahmanson Building, in a suite of galleries already named for the Carters, near the museum’s three Rembrandts.

The Carter family’s earlier loans to LACMA and elsewhere included at least 19 other works that were not part of this gift. Museum insiders said they saw no reason to worry about the fate of remaining works, which have also been pledged to the museum eventually.