New Chesterwood Collections Gallery Opening in July!
Thanks to a generous grant from the Henry Luce Foundation in the amount of $300,000, Chesterwood will install a new gallery showcasing 150+ never-before-exhibited objects from its collection. The installation is designed to illuminate the development of French’s work over time and provide a window into the artist’s working methods, techniques, and creative processes. A former storage area adjoining Chesterwood’s Barn Gallery will be transformed into a climate-controlled, state-of-the art exhibition space. Paintings, models, maquettes, and finished works in plaster, marble, and bronze will be displayed in glass cases and illuminated by museum standard LED lighting. While the gallery is under construction, many art objects will be cleaned and conserved in preparation for the move from storage to exhibition. The gallery is scheduled to open in July 2017.
The works will be presented chronologically. Highlights of the first half of French’s career include a bronze study for the Minute Man, two bronze casts of the Head of Mourning Victory from the Melvin Memorial, and a bronze working model of the Standing Lincoln for the Nebraska State House. The opposite side of the gallery will present works from the second half of French’s career and will feature working models of the Manhattan Bridge group, the melancholy Spirit of the Waters, and the majestic First Division Memorial.
Oil paintings, some in exquisite carved frames, will command the back wall of the gallery. It may come as a surprise to the visitor to see that French was just as talented with a brush and paint as he was with clay. His masterful portraits of his daughter, Margaret French Cresson, have never been exhibited. Also featured will be paintings by French’s artist friends, including the American Impressionist Robert Vonnoh who painted portraits of both French and his daughter. Sculpted portrait busts of family and friends from throughout French’s career will also be included in this section.
In the middle of the room, the full-size plaster of French’s final, unfinished work, the monumental Andromeda, will inhabit her own display glass case. While the marble Andromeda might be well-known to the frequent visitor, this full-size plaster has never been exhibited since its creation about 1930 in the studio at Chesterwood. Visitors will be able to see aspects of French’s working methods through the example of Andromeda: nearby, two small maquettes and a larger version will illuminate the artist’s progress from a germ of an idea to an enlarged version, through to the full-size model. Clearly visible on the full-size plaster are “pointing marks,” small x’s drawn by the Piccirilli Brothers, marble carvers who transferred French’s design into stone.
Providing a window into the artist’s working methods, techniques, and creative processes, the installation will explore the development of French’s work over time. Some commissions will be represented by a single maquette that remained in Chesterwood’s collection. Other commissions, such as the Spirit of Life for the Spencer Trask Memorial, are represented by various small plaster maquettes in plaster and bronze, an anatomical study, an architectural model, and bronze working models. Maquettes for unexecuted projects, small bronzes, reliefs, and early sculptural groups in parianware will add dimension and depth to the illustrated history of French’s long and productive career.
Donna Hassler, Chesterwood’s executive director, is spearheading the project along with Gerry Blache, Chesterwood Buildings and Grounds Superintendent, and Dana Pilson, Chesterwood curatorial researcher. The team also includes Jeff Daly, exhibition designer; Anita Jorgensen, lighting designer; and various subcontractors.