A pint of Guinness, and the next thing you know...

At a Cornell alumni event at the Seattle Art Museum last night, I took a guided tour of a new show there, paintings from the Kenwood House in England.

Apparently, the palace or manor or stately pile that houses the collection is getting a new roof, and so the collection has been allowed to travel.

450px-GuinnessBeerWhat makes the collection most interesting to me is how it was pulled together, beginning in the late 19th Century, by an enterprising member of the Guinness family who had the savvy to buy out his two brothers and then quintuple the value of the business before taking it public in 1886 (I'm recalling this from a placard in the exhibition space).

Kimerly Rorschach, the new Director of the Seattle Art Museum, told us that Edward Cecil Guinness set out to collect the finest paintings money could buy, competing in that effort with Henry Clay Frick (benefactor of the Frick collection in New York) J. Pierpont Morgan (benefactor of the Morgan Library in New York) and Henry Edwards Huntington (benefactor of the Huntington Library in California).

The perspective reminds me of something Jo-Anne Birnie Danzker, Director of the Frye Art Museum, said on a recent tour of the Nicolai Fechin show now there. She was speaking of how much Fechin's work, early in his career in Russia, was in demand among collectors in the United States. In a period of a few years straddling the Russian revolution of 1917, Fechin could not paint fast enough to meet American demand. (Interesting technology side note about Fechin: at least once, he had a photograph taken of a new painting in Russia, sent the photo rather than the painting to America, and closed a sale of the work based on the buyer's assessment of the picture rather than the painting itself. A virtual sale that predates web commerce!)

Don't worry about the paintings. The ones that are really good have lives of their own that transcend the stories of their provenance and transfer. But I do find it fascinating, this impulse to use wealth to build collections of paintings.

Photo from Wikipedia.

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