Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The William S. Paley Collection: A Taste for Modernism

A selection of major works from The William S. Paley Collection at The Museum of Modern Art, New York


The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 2–April 7, 1992,
de Young Museum, San Francisco, CA; September 15 to December 30, 2012
Portland Museum of Art, Portland Maine; May 2 through September 8, 2013
Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, October 10, 2013-January 5, 2014
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville AR, MARCH 15 THROUGH JULY 7, 2014

The Paley Collection is a markedly personal one, reflecting the broad tastes of a singular art collector, rather than one unifying historical period or theme. The work selected for the exhibition, The William S. Paley Collection: A Taste for Modernism, focuses on the extraordinary French School and School of Paris late 19th and early 20th century artists who, like Paley, helped redefine modernism.

Paul Gauguin (French, 1848-1903). Washerwomen, Arles 1888. Oil on burlap. The William S. Paley Collection, The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Paley, founder and force at Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), was a leader in communication, entertainment, and broadcast journalism. His innovations in radio programming and advertising, his balanced commitment to entertainment and news dissemination, and his acute awareness of popular trends revolutionized broadcasting’s business model, and set new standards in broadcast journalism. Paley’s professional interest in emerging technology and new media undoubtedly encouraged his personal interest in modernist art.

Henri Matisse (France, 1869–1954), Seated Woman with a Vase of Amaryllis, 1941, oil on canvas, 13 x 16 1/8 inches. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The William S. Paley Collection. © The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The William S. Paley Collection.

Despite his professional success and stature, as a son of Ukrainian Jewish immigrants, Paley was not spared the religious discrimination encountered by many Americans of his generation. While his power as a media titan opened many doors, others remained closed, including those of several prestigious clubs that denied him membership. Paley’s art patronage, showcased during parties held in his palatial twenty-room apartment on Fifth Avenue, projected an aura of cultural sophistication comparable to that cultivated by New York’s social elite.

As a master of emerging media in his own era, Paley was keenly aware that generous gifts of art to The Museum of Modern Art would help to augment both his public image and his stature as a significant philanthropist. He was one among the many Jewish collectors and donors who helped to found or shape some of America’s major museums, including the de Young Museum and the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco.

Paley’s distinguished collection was initially very much a part of his private world, and is often intimate both in scale and in quality. Many of the paintings, sculptures, and drawings provide an individual, contemplative experience with the art. The collection commenced during a trip to Europe in 1933, when Paley acquired his first purchase:

Paul Cezanne’s precious Self-Portrait in a Straw Hat (1875—1876),

directly from the artist’s son. Shortly thereafter, he acquired the artist’s

L’Estaque (1879—1883). (compare two similar images at the end of this post)

The selection of Paley’s collection hosted by the de Young is particularly rich in the works of Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Pablo Picasso, and Henri Matisse, with significant works by Edgar Degas, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Pierre Bonnard, Georges Roualt, and Andre Derain. Among the pieces offered are

Gauguin’s The Seed of the Areoi (1892)

from the artist’s first visit to Tahiti,

Degas’ large-scale pastel and charcoal Two Dancers (1905),

Picasso’s celebrated monumental painting, Boy Leading a Horse (1905-1906),

Derain’s vibrant Fauve painting Bridge over the Riou (1906), and

Matisse’s Odalisque with a Tambourine (1925-26).

The William S. Paley Collection: A Taste for Modernism was organized by The Museum of Modern Art, New York, with which Paley was affiliated beginning in 1937. Serving as trustee, chairman of the Painting and Sculpture Committee, president of the Museum, and chairman of the Board, Paley was chairman emeritus from 1985 until his death in October, 1990.

This exhibition, featuring more than 60 paintings, sculptures, and drawings, represents the accomplishments of many seminal artists, reflects the modern art patronage of a remarkable man, and celebrates his contributions to, as Robert E. Oldenburg, Director Emeritus of The Museum of Modern Art states, the very “fabric of modern life.”

From a review of the Portland show: (images added)

Picasso. “The Architect’s Table”: Isn’t that one of the great early Cubist pictures? They’re alien at first, those cubist images, and then they start whispering at you. You see the violin scroll, then the bottle of liqueur, the tablecloth tassels, the flirty inclusion of the words “Ma jolie,” the calling card with “Mis [sic] Gertrude Stein” written on it. . . . It’s like an underground trickle of private jokes and allusions. Like tax returns. Intoxicating.

Francis Bacon triptych. “Three Studies for the Portrait of Henrietta Moraes.”

From a review of the DeYoung show with lots of great images:

I discovered Bonnard and Vuillard in a previous exbibition. Their small, intimate painting are jewels. Here you see Bonnard and Vuilllard’s work is both and representational and abstract at the same time.:

Pierre Bonnard Reclining Nude

Édouard Vuillard The Green Lamp

Rouault has been a favorite of mine for his black lines that contain bright color and his sympathetic characters and religious imagery:

Georges Rouault Little Peasant Girl

Georges Rouault The Clown

From a review of the San Francisco show:

Matisse's "Woman With a Veil" is a good example of Paley venturing outside the comfort zone. Dressed in a severely patterned dress, with her head resting on a rigidly straight arm and her eyes curiously shadowed, the sitter peers back impassively at the viewer. It's anything but Matisse as the lush sensualist.

A Derain painting of two actors ("The Rehearsal"):

Andre Derain (French, 1880Ð1954) The Rehearsal, 1933 Oil on canvas 26 7/8 x 30 3/8 in. (68.3 x 77.2 cm) The William S. Paley Collection, courtesy of The Museum of Modern Art, New York Photo: The William S. Paley Collection, MOMA

and a Rouault clown (above) speak to Paley's immersion in public performance.

Even more striking, perhaps, is a pair of Francis Bacon triptychs that could be read as particularly vivid film strips or distorted TV talent head shots:

"Three Studies for the Portrait of Henrietta Moraes" (1963) is one of two Francis Bacon triptychs in the exhibition. Photo: The William S. Paley Collection, MOMA

Many more (large) images

A not to be missed publication preview

Not in the show:

Paul Cezanne:

L'Estaque, 1883–1885

The Gulf of Marseilles Seen from L'Estaque c.1885