FROM PICASSO TO FONTANA — COLLECTING MODERN AND POSTWAR ART IN THE EISENDRATH YEARS, 1960-1968
January 23, 2015 through April 13, 2015
In the 1960s works by some of the most significant European artists of the first half of the twentieth century—including Georges Braque, Henri Matisse, and Pablo Picasso, as well as seminal contemporary figures, such as Alberto Burri, Lucio Fontana, Pierre Soulages, and Antoni Tàpies—were donated to or purchased for the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum (then the Washington University Gallery of Art). William N. Eisendrath, Jr., served as curator and later the first director of the Museum during this period, shepherding the collection as it grew to include over fifty new acquisitions of European modernism and cutting-edge post-World War ll abstraction. Among the works that entered the collection at this time is Pablo Picasso’s Women of Algiers, Variation “N” (1955), one of a series of fifteen paintings that Picasso made after Eugène Delacroix’s well-known painting The Women of Algiers in their Apartment (1834) in the Musée du Louvre in Paris. A gift of Etta Steinberg to commemorate the 1960 dedication of Washington University’s Steinberg Hall, it demonstrated the Museum’s commitment to collecting contemporary European trends.
Building on the legacy of collecting and exhibiting art of the time established by his predecessors H. W. Janson and Frederick Hartt, Eisendrath presented a series of landmark international loan exhibitions that reinforced the significance of European and American modernism, including exhibitions of the work of Alexander Calder, Max Ernst, Wassily Kandinsky, and Paul Klee. Under his leadership, the Museum also hosted traveling exhibitions of some of the most experimental art of the post-World War ll period, bringing the work of a new generation of European and American abstract artists to the contemporary scene in St. Louis. These exhibitions encouraged donations of both European modernism and postwar abstraction by many prominent St. Louis collectors—including Morton D. May, Joseph Pulitzer, Jr., the Sydney M. Shoenberg family, Etta Steinberg, and Florence and Richard K. Weil, among others—significantly enriching the Museum’s collection. Part of a series of exhibitions looking at the development of the Kemper Art Museum’s collection in the 1940s, the 1950s, and now the 1960s, this exhibition presents, on view together for the first time, the seminal artworks that entered the collection under Eisendrath’s leadership.
Richard Pousette-Dart’s painting Blue Presence (1958) is included in this exhibition.
Support for the exhibition is provided by the William T. Kemper Foundation, the Hortense Lewin Art Fund, the Yeatman Fund, and members of the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum.
Pablo Picasso, Les femmes d’Alger (Women of Algiers), Variation “N”, 1955. Oil on canvas, 45 x 57 5/8″. Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University in St. Louis. University purchase, Steinberg Fund, 1960. © 2014 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.