Eric Baumgartner, Director of American Art at Hirschl and Adler Galleries
AT HIRSCHL AND ADLER GALLERIES IN NEW YORK, AMERICAN ART CONTINUES TO BE THE HALLMARK OF DISTINCTION RECOGNIZED AS A INTERNATIONAL LEADER IN THIS FIELD FOR OVER FORTY-FIVE YEARS. SPECIALIZING IN AMERICAN PAINTINGS, SCULPTURE AND WORKS ON PAPER, THE WORKS RANGE FROM EXAMPLES FROM THE COLONIAL AND FEDERAL PERIODS OF AMERICAN ART THROUGH WORLD WAR II, RICH IN EXCEPTIONAL EXAMPLES OF AMERICAN IMPRESSIONISM, THE HUDSON RIVER SCHOOL, THE ASHCAN SCHOOL THAT INCLUDES SUCH GREAT AMERICAN LUMINARIES AS ROBERT HENRI, WILLIAM GLACKENS AND EVERETT SHINN AND AMERICAN MODERNISM WITH OUTSTANDING WORKS BY SUCH MASTERS AS CHARLES DEMUTH, EDWARD HOPPER, JOHN MARIN AND MARSDEN HARTLEY, TO NAME JUST A FEW, THAT HAS CHANGED AND BROADENED OUR AESTHETIC PERSPECTIVE BY INTEGRATING ABSTRACTION, WORD AND IMAGE, AND CUBISM INTO OUR VISUAL VOCABULARY.
ERIC BAUMGARTNER HEADS THE DEPARTMENT OF AMERICAN ART AT THE GALLERY. HIS SENIOR HONORS THESIS EXAMINED THE EXQUISITE LUMINIST PAINTINGS OF JOHN FREDERICK KENSETT, AND TODAY, ERIC’S SPECIALTY AND PASSION CONTINUES TO BE 19th CENTURY AMERICAN ART. TODAY WE HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO LEARN ABOUT ERIC’S DISTINGUISHED ACADEMIC AND PROFESSIONAL PATH.
WHEN DID YOU JOIN THE GALLERY?
I joined Hirschl & Adler Galleries in the summer of 1993, and assumed my present position of Director of its Department of American Art in 1994.
HOW DID YOU DECIDE TO PURSUE A CAREER IN THE ARTS? WHAT WERE YOUR PREVIOUS PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCES AND WHAT ARE THE GREATEST SOURCES OF PLEASURE FOR YOU AS A DIRECTOR AT HIRSCHL & ADLER?
A professor coerced me! In college, I was a science major (biology), and was on a pre-med track. I attended a small liberal-arts college—Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA—which demanded a well-rounded education for all its students. To satisfy one of my humanities requirements, I took a survey course in art history in my freshman year, which I absolutely loved. I suppose that my professor recognized a latent passion in me, and suggested—badgered might be more accurate—that I take some additional art courses. Before you knew it, I was graduating with honors in Art History. Two years after graduation, I was fortunate to find a position at a New York City art gallery. The gallery specialized in 19th century academic European art, but its principal wanted to expand into American art, so I became his de-facto minimum-wage American art “expert.”
THE GALLERY IS DEDICATED TO A BROAD SPECTRUM OF AMERICAN ART IN A VARIETY OF MEDIUMS, INCLUDING PAINTING, SCULPTURE AND WORKS ON PAPER, FROM 18TH TO THE EARLY 20TH CENTURY. DO YOU SPECIALIZE IN A PARTICULAR PERIOD AND, IF SO, WHAT IS IT?
That’s easy: 19th century American paintings and sculpture. In 1996, I organized a gallery exhibition called A Marvellous Repose: American Neo-Classical Sculpture, 1825–1876, which surveyed the rise and fall of white-marble Neo-Classical sculpture in Victorian America. It’s difficult to imagine how popular marble sculpture was at the time, but Hiram Powers, the homegrown dean of American Neo-Classical sculpture, was a true celebrity. American and English Grand Tourists made a visit to Powers’ studio in Florence a de rigeur stop on their European itineraries. Powers’ Greek Slave inspired poetry and sermons, and the chaste female captive was translated into bisque porcelain figurines. She was everywhere! But by the end of the 19th century, literal tons of marble sculpture was being consigned to storage by museums. I’d like to think that our 1996 gallery show helped restore these works to their rightful place of importance.
ONE OF THE GALLERY’S GREAT CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE AMERICAN ART MARKET IS ITS SCHOLARSHIP IN THE FIELD OF AMERICAN FURNITURE AND THE DECORATIVE ARTS THANKS TO STUART FELD’S DEDICATION AND KNOWLEDGE. WHAT ARE SOME OF THE OUTSTANDING WORKS THAT HAVE PASSED THROUGH H&A’S DOORS?
Next to architecture, Neo-Classical furniture most eloquently conveys the young American Republic’s sense of national pride and perception of place in the world. (With much of the furniture from the era drawing from classical architectural vocabulary—columns, entablatures, cornices, etc.—that should not be surprising.) Hirschl & Adler has placed a number of magnificent pieces from the era in major museum and institutional collections, among them a New York griffin figural sideboard (c. 1820) that is now believed to be by Duncan Phyfe, sold to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; a glorious Phyfe cylinder secretary (c. 1830) that now resides in The Red Room of The White House; a superb sideboard and matching cellarette by Phyfe (c. 1840) sold to the Cleveland Museum of Art; and a spectacular gaming table with specimen-marble checkerboard top by Thomas Seymour of Boston (c. 1815), which is a promised gift to the National Gallery of Art from the George M. and Linda H. Kaufman Collection.
Our current gallery exhibition, Very Rich and Handsome: American Neo-Classical Decorative Arts, includes other museum-quality masterpieces in the same vein. This is an area of American collecting where one can still find and acquire true masterpieces. It’s not quite so easy—nor as affordable, relatively speaking—with paintings.
DO TRY TO VISIT THE GALLERY THIS WEEK BEFORE THE EXHIBITION CLOSES. IT IS A BEAUTIFUL EXAMPLE OF THE GREAT SYNERGY BETWEEN THE GALLERY’S EXQUISITE INVENTORY OF AMERICAN FURNITURE AND AMERICAN ART. IN THE IMAGE ABOVE, A PAIR OF RARE FEDERALIST MIRRORS AND SOFA HIGHLIGHT THOMAS COLE’S ELEGANT Italian Autumn.
IN OUR NEXT LRFA BLOG, ERIC WILL INFORM US ON THE PRACTICAL WORKINGS OF THE GALLERY AND DISCUSS THE EBB AND FLOW OF THE MARKET FOR AMERICAN ART.
PLEASE JOIN US!