A Style story yesterday implied incorrectly that the personal papers of painter Gene Davis were given to the National Museum of American Art. The papers were given to the Archives of American Art, a separate unit in the same building. (Published 2/12/91)
The late Florence Coulson Davis, widow of Washington Color School painter Gene Davis, has left their house and the bulk of his paintings to the Smithsonian's National Museum of American Art, according to museum Director Elizabeth Broun.
"She showed extraordinary generosity, and we're very grateful for the confidence she showed in the National Museum of American Art," Broun said yesterday.
The bequest reportedly includes paintings, drawings and prints, as well as the Davis residence at 4120 Harrison St. NW, with studio, climate-controlled storage space and archival materials.
By the terms of the will, Broun said, the museum will be able to select from the works to make up a major Gene Davis collection. The will gives the museum the freedom to sell or otherwise place his works, and with the proceeds to establish a Gene Davis Memorial Fund for research, care and maintenance of his work and of 20th-century art in general.
"We will see what additional works of his should be in our museum," Broun said, "and then look at a plan as to how to place the rest."
By Broun's understanding, Davis also left $100,000 to the Corcoran Gallery of Art to establish a Gene Davis Memorial Scholarship, and expressed a desire that the National Gallery of Art, the Phillips Collection and another museum or two each receive a major painting. All other works and assets go to the NMAA.
A source, who asked not to be identified, said that Florence Davis's wish was to honor the memory of her husband and to keep the collection in Washington, his native city. The source also said that she discussed with museum officials the establishment of a study center. Speculation is that the Washington residence could house the study center for the promotion of contemporary art.
"We haven't made a determination" on the house, Broun said. "My concern right now is security. It's important that we secure it first and then come up with a plan."
The source indicated that the estate contains hundreds of works of art produced by the artist over almost 40 years. Many canvases remain in storage, but, by previous arrangement, some will be shown in April at the Kornblatt Gallery, Washington, and the Charles Cowles Gallery, New York.
Gene Davis, who earned national attention with his striped paintings, died of a heart attack in 1985. Although he was more closely associated with the Corcoran Gallery of Art, it was the NMAA that honored Davis in 1987 with a large-scale memorial exhibition. Florence Davis, a supporter of the arts and until retirement an executive of Riggs Bank, died of cancer Dec. 28.
Gene Davis earned an international reputation with his inclusion in major exhibitions and many museum solo shows. His work now belongs to the Tate Gallery, the Whitney, Guggenheim and Metropolitan museums, the Walker Art Center, the Phillips Collection and the Corcoran, among many others.
As a teacher at the Corcoran School and American University, Davis served as mentor for many aspiring artists. His widow's bequest could ensure that students and researchers will have access in the museum's archives to the computerized records, catalogues, personal papers, clipping files and slide inventories that were maintained over the years.
Gene Davis's own words seemed to foreshadow the bequest: "I believe art has something to do with death. If people didn't die, I doubt we'd have as much great art. ... I'm sure that's the unconscious motivation for a lot of art -- to elude death. To leave something of yourself behind."