NGA's most extensive gift in half-century expands decorative collection

By Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 12, 2010; C07

Although the National Gallery of Art is not the usual destination for decorative arts, a gift of important American furniture will likely change that notion in the next few years.

The gallery announced Friday that George M. and Linda H. Kaufman's collection has been promised to the gallery, increasing its holdings in decorative arts, as well as adding 35 paintings, including Dutch Masters and watercolors by Winslow Homer, Childe Hassam and Pierre-Joseph Redouté. The furniture, created from 1690 to 1830, covers the styles of William and Mary, Queen Anne, Chippendale and Neoclassical.

Long coveted by several museums, the gift's 200 furniture objects will force the gallery to create a new setting, most likely in proximity to its European decorative arts.

This is the first extensive gift of decorative arts to the gallery since 1941 when Joseph Widener donated his family's collection for the gallery's opening.

"It will be completely different from what we have," said Earl A. Powell III, the gallery's director. "What is lovely and what is interesting for Washington is that the visitor will be able to see these examples of our craftsmanship. There are some at the State Department and the White House, if you can get into see them."

Several significant furniture centers or cabinetmakers are represented in the collection. A nest of tables, attributed to John and Thomas Seymour, was created between 1790 and 1810 in a Federal style. A Chippendale desk and bookcase, made around 1765 in Philadelphia, are attributed to Thomas Affleck. A Neoclassical Federal carved mahogany couch was made in New York between 1805 and 1820 and attributed to Duncan Phyfe. A mahogany Chippendale tea table was made in Newport, R.I., around 1755-65 and attributed to John Townsend and John Goddard.

Wendy Cooper, senior curator of furniture at Winterthur Museum, has worked with the Kaufmans over the years and said they wanted their objects accessible to the country. "No one institution, none of them could have taken that collection in total. They don't have the room to show it all. This is the perfect solution."

The donors have been associated with the gallery since the early 1980s and an exhibition of their furniture collection was mounted at the museum in 1986 and 1987. George Kaufman, who died in 2001, was a banker, investor and founder of Guest Quarters. Linda H. Kaufman has continued the family's active support of several museums and served on several of the gallery's leadership committees.

"We always wanted to give the collection to the American people. The National Gallery of Art will be the ideal home,'' Kaufman said in a statement.

In two years, the gallery plans to exhibit the furniture.

The collection's Dutch paintings are also the most important gift of that style since the founding benefactors. Most are landscapes, including "River View" by Salomon van Ruysdael and a cityscape of Amsterdam by Jan van der Heyden. Even though most of the artists are represented at the gallery, Arthur Wheelock, curator of northern baroque paintings, said, "these are different moments in their careers, the paintings bring a richer presentation."

Adding to the American collection is "Gloucester Sunset," a watercolor by Homer and "Portrait of the Artist's Wife (Leaning on a Garden Wall)," a watercolor by Hassam. The gift includes 40 watercolors by Redouté.

The gallery has 515 decorative arts objects, including 63 Chinese porcelains.

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