Three decades of American Art at Godel & Co.
ALTHOUGH AMERICAN ART SPANS ONLY THREE CENTURIES, THANKS TO OUR PIONEERING SPIRIT AND PATRIOTISM, MANY OUTSTANDING MUSEUM COLLECTIONS HOUSE TREASURE TROVES OF AMERICAN ART, AMERICAN ARTISTS’ STUDIOS AND HOMES ARE LANDMARKED AS HISTORIC, VISITOR SITES, AND A SIGNIFICANT NUMBER OF MUSEUMS ARE DEDICATED EXCLUSIVELY TO AMERICAN PAINTING, SCULPTURE AND WORKS ON PAPER FROM THE 18th TO THE 20th CENTURY.
THE NEW-YORK HISTORICAL SOCIETY WAS ONE OF THE EARLIEST MUSEUMS TO HOUSE A WORLD-CLASS COLLECTION THANKS TO THE PHILANTHROPIC GENEROSITY OF THE 19th CENTURY COLLECTOR LUMAN REED. HIS 1858 DONATION OF HUDSON RIVER SCHOOL PAINTINGS INCLUDED MAJOR WORKS BY THOMAS COLE AND FREDERIC CHURCH AND ICONIC GENRE PAINTINGS BY WILLIAM SIDNEY MOUNT AND EASTMAN JOHNSON.
IN 1870, THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM BEGAN TO ACQUIRE IMPORTANT EXAMPLES OF AMERICAN ART AND DESIGN AND TODAY, THE MET’S AMERICAN WING HOUSES SOME 1700 WORKS OF DECORATIVE AND FINE AMERICAN ART FROM COLONIAL PORTRAITS TO EARLY 20th CENTURY ASH CAN SCHOOL WORKS. THE SMITHSONIAN AMERICAN ART MUSEUM IN WASHINGTON, D.C. ALSO IS CELEBRATED AS ONE OF OUR FIRST AND LARGEST COLLECTIONS AND PROVIDES AN UNPARALLELED RECORD OF THE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE.
THE MOST RECENT CONTRIBUTION TO THE CULTURAL HERITAGE AND APPRECIATION OF AMERICAN ART, THE CRYSTAL BRIDGES MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART IN BENTONVILLE, ARKANSAS WAS ESTABLISHED JUST A FEW YEARS AGO IN 2011 BY COLLECTOR AND PHILANTHROPIST, ALICE WALTON. THE MUSEUM RECENTLY ANNOUNCED PLANS TO TRANSFORM AN OLD KRAFT CHEESE PLANT INTO AN ADDITIONAL SPACE FOR CONTEMPORARY ART EXHIBITIONS, ARTISTS’ PROJECTS, MUSIC, THEATER AND FILM.
HOWARD GODELL, FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT OF GODEL & CO., AND GALLERY DIRECTOR, KATHERINE BAUMGARTNER, HAVE ENCOURAGED AND CONTRIBUTED TO THIS AREA OF COLLECTING SINCE THE GALLERY WAS FOUNDED THIRTY YEARS AGO.
Howard, what was the collector profile for American Art during the gallery’s formative years? Has it changed and, if so, in what ways?
HOWARD: When I first opened the gallery, most of the collectors we sold to were doctors and small businessmen and women who could easily afford works that cost $5,000 to $25,000. Many of those early clients went on to form major collections of American art. The market has matured and changed, and people with serious wealth have entered
market, especially in the last 20 years, creating high demand for masterpiece level works. Single pictures by the top artists in our area of expertise are now worth millions, and that is not likely to change because demand outstrips supply by a large margin.
Katherine, Godel & Co. enjoys very strong support from museum curators, boards and groups. How were these museum relationships developed? In what way does the criteria of placing work in museums parallel the requisites of private collectors and in what ways does it differ?
KATHERINE: While I think most curators of historical American art are familiar with our reputation, and know that we have one of the most extensive and wide-ranging inventories in the country, we still make a point of reaching out to them and visiting museums is a high priority for us. I learn so much when curators take me through their galleries, and it is always a treat to tour a special exhibition with the curator who organized it! Part of my job is to know what a particular museum owns, and if there are any “holes” in the collection. So we meet curators on their home turf, but we also encourage them to visit the gallery, whether they are searching for acquisitions, or if they are doing research for an exhibition. We are always happy to loan paintings to museum exhibitions. Not only is it good publicity for the gallery and adds value to the artwork, it also enhances our understanding and appreciation of it. We host many museum collectors’ groups throughout the year. Sometimes they just want a tour through the gallery, but more often than not, the curators have acquisitions in mind and ask us to focus on specific paintings, often ones they have vetted beforehand. I find that most of the curators I work with are very savvy about the art market and make every effort to know what’s on the market at any given time.
Our criteria for selling to museums and private collectors is the same, really. Museums can just take a bit longer to make decisions, as acquisitions usually have to be approved by their boards and donors. All of our clients, be they private collectors or museums, rely on us to provide them with high quality, well researched works of art, at fair prices.
What are some of the most memorable works that the gallery has placed with both private and institutional collectors?
We work with over 350 museums, large urban ones, as well as smaller regional ones, and it’s always gratifying to sell to them. It means that we must provide works of exceptional quality and condition, with accurate and verifiable provenances, etc. For me, all of the museum sales are memorable and each has its own story. One of the most memorable sales we made to a museum was a rare still life by Raphaelle Peale to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Howard had purchased it for his private collection, and when we mounted an exhibition of still-life painting in 2006, he loaned it for the show, with absolutely no intention of selling it.
When I took Margi Conrads (then curator of American art at the Nelson-Atkins) through the show, the Peale stopped her in her tracks. It took some doing, but Margi and I persuaded Howard to let it go. I think I remember some “pretty pleases” during that negotiation! As hard as it was for him to part with it, I know he is proud that “his” Peale is now part of a world-class collection of American art. We are also proud to have placed a rare Pre-Raphaelite forest interior executed in 1863 by William Trost Richards in the National Gallery of Art, and an exquisite floral still life by Severin Roesen in the Baltimore Museum of Art. We’ve sold significant works to many museums, including the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Terra Foundation of American Art, High Museum of Art, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Greenville County Museum of Art, Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum, and the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg.
EACH GENERATION OF COLLECTORS IDENTIFIES A PERIOD OF ART THAT RESONATES WITH THEM. MANY ACTIVE COLLECTORS ARE COMMITTED TO ACQUIRING CONTEMPORARY ART. A SHIFT WITHIN THE AMERICAN ART MARKET IS FROM 19th CENTURY HUDSON RIVER SCHOOL AND AMERICAN IMPRESSIONIST WORKS ADORED BY THEIR PARENTS’ GENERATION TO THE MODERNIST SENSIBILITY OF WORKS OF THE EARLY 20th CENTURY.
IN THE NEXT LRFA BLOG, KATHERINE WILL EXPLORE THE NATURE OF THIS EVOLUTION OF TASTE AND ITS IMPACT ON THE AMERICAN ART MARKET. PLEASE JOIN US!