"There's the Matisse. And there's Mary Cassatt. And there's the Spruance with that white whale. I have always loved that Matisse."
For Edith Goodkind Rosenwald, it was much like embracing old friends, warmly remembered, yesterday as she visited her husband's memorial exhibit opening tomorrow at the National Gallery of Art.
"Lessing J. Rosenwald: Tribute to a Collector" brings together 100 prints and drawings from medieval to modern times. It is a selective sampler that can only give a hint of the munificence of the Rosenwald collection of 22,000 pieces of graphic arts assembled over a half-century by a collector with both perception and passion.
Yesterday, Mrs. Rosenwald, whose husband died in 1979, came to the National Gallery for a luncheon in her honor with about 100 guests. And, for her, there was a chance to renew acquaintance with a few of the prints and drawings housed for four decades in the gallery attached to Alverthorpe, the Rosenwald family estate outside of Philadelphia, before transfer of the collection to the National Gallery.
"Lessing didn't buy anything that he didn't want," said Mrs. Rosenwald as she glanced about the gallery rooms. "You know, I still have some of my favorite Cassatts on the walls at home. Oh, my goodness, I would not let them go."
At 88, Mrs. Rosenwald, a petite woman with upright carriage, makes few concessions to age. If she does carry a cane, it is not so much for support while walking as "to avoid crashing into these glass doors that you can't see." Yesterday, in winter white with a splash of color from the scarf at her neck, she missed little as she walked through the East Wing:
"Isn't that Calder fun," she said pointing to the large mobile moving playfully overhead. "And those wonderful posters."
It was the same enthusiam and observant eye that Edith Goodkind Rosenwald contributed to the collecting partnership that developed during nearly 67 years of marriage.
"When we were married in 1913 in Chicago, Whistler was just getting attention," she recalled. "There were quite a few prints among our wedding presents."
It wasn't until 1926 that Rosenwald made his first print purchase on his own. It is on display at the National Gallery. While on a walk in downtown Philadelphia, Rosenwald apparently spotted a third-state impression of a D.Y. Cameron etching in the window of Sessler's bookshop.
"But once he got started, there was no stopping," Mrs. Rosenwald recalled.
She accompanied her husband on his buying trips to Europe during breaks from the family business. Rosenwald was chairman of the board of Sears Roebuck Co. when he retired.
The sampler of 100 prints for the Rosenwald memorial exhibit has brought together some "strange bedfellows on the wall," J. Carter Brown, director of the National Gallery, noted at the luncheon. The exhibit is not designed as a showcase of masterpieces from a collection. Rather, Brown said, it is to show the development of the collector.
Mrs. Rosenwald recalled how her husband relished taking visitors through the Alverthorpe Gallery. Magnifying glass in hand, he would point out the differences between impressions and states.
"Some of you remember the wonderful experience of poking around at Alverthorpe," Brown said. "I don't think you can go through the show without falling in love with a print--finding the excitement and thrill of collecting."
And, remembering the Rosenwald gift to the gallery, he added: "And some day taste the joys of benefaction."
One aspect of Rosenwald's generosity as a donor was that he directed that the gallery should be able to "trade up" when impressions of finer quality came on the market. Unlike some other collector-donors, he did not "freeze" his collection to the pieces that he had assembled. So his collection--called "the finest of its kind ever to be formed in the United States by a single individual" by Ruth E. Fine, curator in the gallery's department of graphic arts--has been deepened and expanded over the years.