Thursday, September 7, 2017

A Cultivating Journey: The Herman H. Levy Legacy

McMaster Museum of Art, Hamilton, Ontario
1 September – 9 December 2017

Vancouver Art Gallery
opening in March 2018

A Cultivating Journey examines and celebrates the collection of significant European historical and modern art donated to the McMaster Museum of Art by Herman Levy in 1984. Alone, this was a transformative moment for the Museum, but the Levy Bequest, announced in 1991 after his death, revealed substantial funds expressly for art purchases with the only proviso that they be non-North American in origin.  The openness and generosity of the terms allowed for a unique opportunity to support the Museum’s prime purpose of teaching and research, and to re-imagine the collection, bringing it forward into the late twentieth century in a purposeful and thought-provoking way.

Appropriately, the exhibition coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Museum this year.
Herman Levy was a life-long supporter of the University, the Museum and art history as well as the Art Gallery of Hamilton, which was located on the University grounds from 1953 to 1974.

Herman H. Levy was the grandson of Jewish immigrants from Alsace Lorraine who settled in Canada in the late 19th century. His grandfather established a very successful family-run business in Hamilton called Levy Brothers which specialized in diamond and jewellery importing, a business which the young Herman Levy himself joined in 1923. It was around this time that Levy also first developed his interest in art while completing an apprenticeship in fine jewellery and the diamond trade in Amsterdam. Regular visits to the city’s many museums and galleries allowed him time to look at art and develop his eye. Levy also made some of his first purchases at that time including early European woodcut prints and maps and thus established a lifelong practice — the careful examination, contemplation and experience of objects of quality. As he described it, “doing what I liked best — looking at beautiful things.”

The family business, Levy Brothers, flourished for many years until 1960 when Herman Levy made the decision to devote his energies exclusively to art. As he explained it, “I liquidated the company and retired from business to look at some paintings, sculpture and some types of Chinese art and Romanesque architecture.” Today, the Herman H. Levy Gallery at the McMaster Museum of Art presents changing exhibitions highlighting art from his collection. Work by such well-known artists as Gustave Courbet, Camille Pissarro, Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh and Chaim Soutine reflect Levy’s personal taste and interests, in particular Impressionist and Post-Impressionist landscapes, portraits and still lifes.

A number of works from the Herman H. Levy Collection are also representative of the interests of his family. For example, paintings by the French artist Henri Le Sidaner or the drawings by American Marry Cassat were chosen with the involvement of Levy’s sister Elsie and, in fact, some of the early prints and paintings in the collection were actually purchased by his mother. To the greatest extent, however, the collection is the result of the efforts of Herman Levy and a process of extensive searching, careful examination and contemplation in which he engaged. Levy loved art and throughout his life was a serious collector, an advocate of lifelong learning and a consistent and generous supporter of the arts — whether through the encouragement of young artists and his support of organizations like the Hamilton Artists Inc., or his support of such institutions as McMaster University, the Art Gallery of Hamilton, the National Gallery of Canada and the Royal Ontario Museum (which now houses his collection of historical Chinese ceramics).

Herman Levy’s ideas and influences continue to be felt at McMaster University in many ways. The design of the Herman H. Levy Gallery is reflective of the kind of domestic environment he created for the display of his collection in his home. The low ceilings, richly coloured walls and sparkling light all help to create a more intimate and contemplative experience for the visitor. When not on exhibit, the more than 140 paintings, drawings, prints and rare maps which also make up part of the Herman H. Levy Collection may be accessed by appointment by students, researchers or members of the public.

Herman Levy’s generosity has also ensured the growth of the University’s art collection. The receipt of the Levy Bequest in 1990 has made it possible for different aspects of the collection to be expanded. The purchases which have been made reflect in part Herman Levy’s own interests, but also give the collection greater scope in terms of historical, modern and contemporary art. A catalogue The Levy Legacy was published in 1996 to document this cultural legacy and a constantly changing programme of permanent collection exhibitions makes it possible for visitors to the Museum to see a selection of these works throughout the year.

The success of the Levy Bequest Purchase Programme has also brought McMaster University national and international attention as a result of numerous requests for loans to such leading institutions as the Boston Museum of Fine Arts; Kunsthaus, Zurich; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Museum of Fine Arts, Montreal; National Gallery, London; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; Royal Academy, London; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and the Vancouver Art Gallery.

The exhibition works are drawn from the original Levy donation to the Museum (including paintings by Courbet, Derain, Monet, Pissarro, Soutine,Van Gogh), Bequest purchases, and selected works that Levy gifted to the Art Gallery of Hamilton. Included are Levy’s first purchases of Chinese artifacts. His dual passion for European and Asian art, was also reflected in the donation of his Asian collection to the Royal Ontario Museum in 1983-84 and a Bequest to the ROM for Asian purchases.

A Cultivating Journey Publication

An exhibition and scholarly publication is forthcoming. Contributors include:
Tabitha Barber (Curator of British Art 1550–1750, Tate)
Tobi Bruce (Director, Collections and Exhibitions, Art Gallery of Hamilton)
Dr. Lloyd DeWitt (Chief Curator, Chrysler Museum of Art)
Alex Kidson (Art Historian and Curator, England)
Dr. Alison McQueen (Professor of Art History, Director of the School of the Arts, McMaster University)
Kim G. Ness (Former Director/Curator, McMaster Museum of Art)
Dr. Caterina Y. Pierre (Professor of Art History at the City University of New York at Kingsborough Community College).

A Cultivating Journey will tour to the Vancouver Art Gallery, opening in March 2018.  Other venues and dates, to be announced.

Gustave Caillebotte  (French, 1848-1894)
Voiliers au Mouillage sur la Seine, à Argenteuil / Sailboats at Anchor on the Seine at Argenteuil, 1883
Oil on canvas
Collection of McMaster Museum of Art, Gift of Herman Levy, Esq., O.B.E.

Georges Lemmen  (Belgian, 1865-1916)
La Meuse / The Meuse River
late 19th-early 20th Century
Oil on wood
Collection of McMaster Museum of Art, Gift of Herman Levy, Esq., O.B.E.

Claude Monet  (French, 1840-1926)
Waterloo Bridge, Effet de Soleil, 1903
Oil on canvas
Collection of McMaster Museum of Art, Gift of Herman Levy, Esq., O.B.E.

Camille Pissarro  (French, 1830-1903)
Pommiers en Fleur, 1870
Oil on canvas
Collection of McMaster Museum of Art, Gift of Herman Levy, Esq., O.B.E.

Vincent van Gogh  (Dutch, 1853-1890)
Untitled, Still Life: Ginger Pot and Onions, 1885
Oil on canvas
Collection of McMaster Museum of Art, Gift of Herman Levy, Esq., O.B.E.