A remarkable collection of 18th and 19th-century American "naive" paintings -- among them the choicest remaining works in the unparalleled collection of the late Col. Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch -- has been bequeathed to the National Gallery of Art.
The bequest includes the famous anonymous picture of a yellow-eyed bodyless cat swallowing a bird and one of the finest versions of "The Peaceable Kingdom" by Edward Hicks. It caps a series of Garbisch gifts that, since the first in 1953, have provided the Gallery with one of the finest collections of naive (once called "folk" or "primitive" paintings to be found in any American museum.
Already there are 265 Garbisch paintings at the Gallery, where a changing display drawn from their collection is permanently on view.
"Their generosity has made the Gallery's collection of early American folk paintings one of the best," said John Wilmerding, curator of American art. "What this new gift will do is make it preeminent."
Bernice Garbisch was a daughter of Walter P. Chrysler, a founder of the Chrysler Corp. Her husband, a former All-American football player at the U.S. Military Academy, was a corporate executive. He died, after a long illness, last Dec. 14. She died the next morning. He was 80, she was 72. In three weeks they would have been married for 50 years.
What is now acknowledged as the special charm, the innocence and humor of American folk paintings was not widely recognized when Col. and Mrs. Garbisch began their collection after World War II. They eventually acquired some 2,600 pictures. A number of the best were given to museums. Many of the less important eventually were sold. "They rigorously weeded out the worst things," said Wilmerding.
The executors of the Garbisch estate only this week made public the bequest, and the Gallery does not yet know exactly what works it will get. It is known that the gift includes a number of Garbisch favorites, pictures that have hung for years at Pokety Farms, the 18th-century mansion on their 60-acre estate near Cambridge on Maryland's Eastern Shore.
The painters they collected include Ammi Phillips, Rufus Hathaway, Erastus Salisbury Field and other naive artists who, though long neglected, are widely known today.
Though the Garbisches distributed many of their American pictures to the Gallery, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Chrysler Museum at Norfolk and other institutions, they formed a second collection of impressionist and post-Impressionist European pictures that is not to be sold.
Forty-two paintings -- by Cezanne, Degas Picasso, Van Gogh and other masters -- will be auctioned in New York in May. They are expected to fetch more than $10 million, a figure that would make the sale, at Sotheby Park Bernet, the second most lucrative in history, surpassed only by the $34-million Robert von Hirsch auction in London in 1978. Pokety Farms and its contents also will go under the hammer in May.