Cover image for Buying Baroque: Italian Seventeenth-Century Paintings Come to America Edited by Edgar Peters  Bowron

Buying Baroque

Italian Seventeenth-Century Paintings Come to America

Edited by Edgar Peters Bowron


$69.95 | Hardcover Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-07727-7

Available as an e-book

204 pages
8" × 10"
43 color/15 b&w illustrations
Co-published with The Frick Collection

The Frick Collection Studies in the History of Art Collecting in America

Buying Baroque

Italian Seventeenth-Century Paintings Come to America

Edited by Edgar Peters Bowron

“Furthers understanding of dealers, critics, conservators, art historians, and others who contributed to this web of relationships and impacted aesthetic interests, collecting activities, exhibitions, and scholarship over the past century.”


  • Description
  • Reviews
  • Bio
  • Table of Contents
  • Sample Chapters
  • Subjects
Although Americans have shown interest in Italian Baroque art since the eighteenth century—Thomas Jefferson bought copies of works by Salvator Rosa and Guido Reni for his art gallery at Monticello, and the seventeenth-century Bolognese school was admired by painters Benjamin West and John Singleton Copley—a widespread appetite for it only took hold in the early to mid-twentieth century. Buying Baroque tells this history through the personalities involved and the culture of collecting in the United States.

The distinguished contributors to this volume examine the dealers, auction houses, and commercial galleries that provided access to Baroque paintings, as well as the collectors, curators, and museum directors who acquired and shaped American perceptions about these works, including Charles Eliot Norton, John W. Ringling, A. Everett Austin Jr., and Samuel H. Kress. These essays explore aesthetic trends and influences to show why Americans developed an increasingly sophisticated taste for Baroque art between the late eighteenth century and the 1920s, and they trace the fervent peak of interest during the 1950s and 1960s.

A wide-ranging, in-depth look at the collecting of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Italian paintings in America, this volume sheds new light on the cultural conditions that led collectors to value Baroque art and the significant effects of their efforts on America’s greatest museums and galleries.

In addition to the editor, contributors include Andrea Bayer, Virginia Brilliant, Andria Derstine, Marco Grassi, Ian Kennedy, J. Patrice Marandel, Pablo Pérez d’Ors, Richard E. Spear, and Eric M. Zafran.

“Furthers understanding of dealers, critics, conservators, art historians, and others who contributed to this web of relationships and impacted aesthetic interests, collecting activities, exhibitions, and scholarship over the past century.”
“It took the major museums in America a long time to realise how essential Baroque painting is to the history of European art, which is why the stories told in these ten essays have a broader lesson.”
“This substantive and important contribution on the collecting of Italian Baroque paintings in this country provides insights into the vagaries of American taste and the exciting dynamics of museum politics, collecting, scholarship, and showmanship. The informative essays by ten eminent scholars suggest that despite a longstanding lack of interest in Italian Baroque paintings in the U.S., a few prescient individuals acquired key works that later provided the core collections for major American museums.”
“The wealth of Italian Baroque paintings in America is the outcome of an extraordinary twentieth-century collecting phenomenon. But it was effected by a relatively small group of enthusiastic and inspired individuals—curators, museum directors, art historians, private collectors, and art dealers. Their efforts, often in the face of entrenched tastes colored by religious and critical biases, are treated in this volume of essays by both participants in and beneficiaries of this rich cultural legacy.”
“Bursting at the seams with fascinating, otherwise unfindable information about this important chapter in the history of taste and collecting, this excellent group of essays is essential reading for anyone interested in the way in which networks of collectors, art dealers, museum curators, and academics collaborated to form America’s rich bounty of Italian Baroque paintings in public and private collections.”
“A set of ten informative and well-written essays that provide the reader with a sampling of personalities, acquisition strategies, and collections that many Europeans may not know.”

Edgar Peters Bowron served as the Audrey Jones Beck Curator of European Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, from 1996 through 2014. Previously, he was senior curator of paintings at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., director of the Harvard University Art Museums, and director of the North Carolina Museum of Art. Now retired, he most recently published Pompeo Batoni: A Complete Catalogue of His Paintings.


List of Illustrations



Introduction: The Critical Fortunes of Italian Baroque Painting in America

Edgar Peters Bowron

1 Italian Baroque Paintings at the Ringling Museum: The Legacy of John Ringling and Chick Austin

Virginia Brilliant

2 The Atheneum to the Fore: Hartford and the Italian Baroque

Eric Zafran

3 The American View of the “Forgotten Century” of Italian Painting: Reminiscences of an Art Dealer and Curator

Marco Grassi

4 An Invisible Web: Art Historians Behind the Collecting of Italian Baroque Art Richard Spear

5 Baroque in the Caribbean: Luis A. Ferré and the Museo de Arte de Ponce

Pablo Pérez d’Ors

6 Dealing and Scholarship: The Heim Gallery, London, 1966–1995

J. Patrice Marandel

7 The Detroit Institute of Arts and Italian Baroque Painting

Andria Derstine

8 The Bob Jones University Collection of Italian Baroque Paintings

Ian Kennedy

9 Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., and His Collection of Italian Baroque Paintings

Eric Zafran

10 Better Late than Never: Collecting Baroque Painting at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Andrea Bayer


List of Contributors

List of Artists



The Critical Fortunes of Italian Baroque Painting in America

Edgar Peters Bowron

We are all familiar with the passionate interest in Italian Baroque painting on the part of a handful of American collectors, museum curators and directors, and scholars beginning in the 1920s, and with how it gained more and more adherents over the decades, particularly in the 1950s and 1960s. But it is easy to forget that the Baroque played at least a supporting role from the first tentative appearances of European art in this country; even our Founding Fathers showed an interest in the art of the period. Before his departure for Europe in 1784, Thomas Jefferson compiled lists of works, based in part upon Horace Walpole’s (1717–1797) description of the pictures gathered by Sir Robert Walpole (1676–1745), England’s de facto first prime minister, at Houghton Hall in Norfolk, of which he wanted copies for his art gallery at Monticello, including Salvator Rosa’s Prodigal Son (early 1650s; now at the State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg). In Paris, Jefferson bought copies after Domenichino, Guido Reni, Jusepe de Ribera, Francesco Solimena, and Carlo Maratti, and from Italy he wrote that Carlo Dolci had become a “violent favorite.”

The leading American painters of the late eighteenth century were also drawn to the Italian Baroque to further their artistic educations. Benjamin West, John Singleton Copley, and John Trumbull all admired the seventeenth-century Bolognese school, and West made several fine copies after Guido, including a Salome with the Head of Saint John the Baptist in the Palazzo Corsini, Rome (fig. 1). By the early nineteenth century, as Americans traveled to Europe in greater numbers, emulating the British on the grand tour, they increasingly acquired examples, both originals and copies, of the Italian paintings they had admired. Richard Meade (1788–1828), a Philadelphia merchant and businessman, for example, amassed an important collection of Old Master paintings between 1810 and 1820 while serving as United States Consul in Cádiz, Spain, where he assembled a “gallery” of pictures that was later placed on display in Philadelphia. They included Luca Giordano’s large Calling of Saint Matthew (fig. 2), acquired by Georgetown University from Meade’s daughter Martha in 1860.

Eric Zafran, in his authoritative essay “A History of Italian Baroque Painting in America,” produced an indispensable guide to the subject of this volume of essays. With meticulous attention to seemingly every detail that pertains to the collecting of the Italian Baroque in America, he documented the continuous interest in paintings of the period by Americans from the founding of the nation to the 1990s, noting, for example, the purchases of two visitors to Florence in 1836, Richard Henry Wilde (1789–1847) of Georgia and Colonel James Thomson (1808–1883) of New York, who acquired from the Ricciardi Serguido family Salvator Rosa’s Landscape with the Baptism of Christ (ca. 1657–58; Museum & Art Gallery, Bob Jones University, Greenville, South Carolina) and Self-Portrait (ca. 1647; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York [fig. 52 in this volume]), respectively. The roster of private collectors, dealers, and art institutions in nineteenth-century America, and the works they acquired by the likes of the Carracci, Domenichino, Guido Reni, Guercino, Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione, Pier Francesco Mola, and Carlo Maratti (even if the paintings were inevitably not always authentic or by the masters claimed), are truly eye-opening. In the 1800s, from Boston and New York to the Midwest to the West Coast, Italian Baroque paintings were acquired by a host of collectors; for example, James Scripps (1835–1906), the newspaper publisher and philanthropist, who acquired a Head of Christ Crowned with Thorns by Guido Reni (fig. 37 in this volume) and gave it to the Detroit Museum of Art, now the Detroit Institute of Arts, in 1889.

The contributors to this book explore the collecting of Italian Baroque painting from at least five points of view: first and foremost, the personalities—the collectors, curators, and museum directors—who acquired the paintings; the art market—the dealers, auction houses, and commercial galleries—that provided access to them; the vicissitudes of taste and the influence of writers, teachers, art historians, and art-historical scholarship in shaping perceptions about seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Italian painting; the role of art exhibitions and exhibition catalogues; and the shifting market values of the works themselves. Inextricably entwined, none of these avenues of investigation can be regarded in isolation one from another.

Consideration of the vagaries of the fashion for Italian Baroque painting in America offers a good point of departure. Eric Zafran has pointed to the 1840s and 1850s as the zenith of American taste for the grandiose and sentimental Baroque, especially the work of Guido Reni and Carlo Dolci, an enthusiasm that lingered on in conservative upper-class circles for quite some time. Henry James (1843–1916) has one of his most fatuous female characters say, “We have a Sassoferrato, you know, from which we’re inseparable—we travel with our picture and our poodle.” But just at the moment that these painters were enthroned as exemplars of taste and quality, and prints and photographs of Guido Reni’s frescoed ceiling of the large central hall of the garden palace, the Casino dell’Aurora in Rome, adorned Victorian parlors and libraries across the country, the tide of taste began to reverse. Differing opinions on the importance of these artists and even the period of the Baroque in general were increasingly being expressed, notably by John Ruskin (1819–1900), who wrote to his father from Italy in 1845, “I have pretty well now arranged my scale of painters”; in the bottommost group—“the School of Errors and Vices”—he put the Carracci, Guido, Carlo Dolci, and Caravaggio, whose paintings he reviled as “morbid brutality” and “feeding upon horror and ugliness, and filthiness of sin.” The enthusiasm with which Guido Reni had been regarded in the eighteenth century—Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717–1768) compared him to the classical Greek sculptor Praxiteles—and the early nineteenth—when he captivated the poetic imagination of Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822)—plummeted in the second half of the century under the scornful attacks of Ruskin, who condemned him and the entire seventeenth-century school for being overly sentimental and lacking in sincerity and religious conviction. George Hersey (1927–2007), who wrote perceptively on the critical fortunes of Neapolitan Baroque painting in America, noted a variety of influences that doomed the prestige of Italian seventeenth-century painting, above all the figure of Ruskin, the first art historian who was at the same time a major literary influence and a best-selling author, an immensely popular lecturer, and even something of a seer. In Hersey’s words, his “disciples . . . ranged from Proust to Pater to Berenson to Mahatma Gandhi.”

The tentacles of Ruskin’s high regard for Giotto, Fra Angelico, and the early Italian school, to the detriment of the Baroque, soon reached America. In 1864, we find the collector and writer James Jackson Jarves (1818–1888) describing Domenichino’s Last Communion of Saint Jerome (1614; Pinacoteca Vaticana, Rome), for many a visitor to Rome the supreme achievement in paint after Raphael’s Transfiguration, as “a violation of artistic rule, instigated by the ascetic side of religion” and lacking a “proper understanding of Christianity.” Charles Eliot Norton (1827–1908), the leading American disciple of Ruskin and Lecturer on the History of Fine Arts at Harvard University, influenced several generations of scholars and collectors, such as Bernard Berenson (1865–1959) and Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840–1924), with his pronouncement that the same artist’s Martyrdom of Saint Agnes (ca. 1619–22/25; Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna) was “one of the worst of the Bolognese School,” marked by “coarse materialism, disgusting exaggeration, and the utter want of elevation or truth of expression.”

By the 1860s, Italian Seicento painting was probably despised far more in England and America than on the Continent. Happily, however, Ruskin’s scathing view that Reni and his ilk epitomized a “feeble and fallen school” did not survive the reappraisal of twentieth-century scholarship. Instead, the sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s view—that Reni painted “pictures of Paradise”—has gradually been restored, beginning in the 1950s and 1960s through an older generation of scholars and then through American art historians such as Stephen Pepper and Richard Spear. I am confident that by now many advocates of the Baroque have come to view Guido Reni as “perhaps the purest painter who ever wielded a brush, an artist of unearthly talent and labyrinthine complexity,” as Charles Dempsey once pronounced.

But throughout the twentieth century there was a kind of yin and yang, an oscillation between fame and disrepute, praise and blame, for those works that had once been so widely hailed for their beauty and grace and religious fervor and then disparaged as academic, monotonous, tearful, and saccharine. And even looking back to the heyday of the popularity of Italian Baroque paintings in America in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, I often question just how deep and widespread this popularity in fact was, and is. It is not that we have never lacked admirers for Italian Baroque paintings in America. We just need to remind ourselves of the indifference to or outright prejudice against the art of the Catholic Counter-Reformation, deeply rooted in aesthetic, social, and religious traditions, on the part of many American museum trustees, patrons, and the general public.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, when it came to collecting Italian art, under the influence of Charles Eliot Norton, Bernard Berenson, Robert Langton Douglas (1864–1951), and the dealers Joseph Duveen, P. & D. Colnaghi, and Roland Knoedler, Renaissance masters such as Giovanni Bellini and Raphael, along with gold-ground painters of the fifteenth century, were ascendant. None of the great American collectors of the Gilded Age—J. Pierpont Morgan, Collis and Henry Huntington, Peter and Joseph Widener, Henry Clay Frick, Andrew Mellon, and Jules Bache—considered Italian seventeenth- and eighteenth-century pictures to be of any significance, and what few they did purchase were restricted to the occasional sketch by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, genre scene by Pietro Longhi, or view by Canaletto or Francesco Guardi. Whether these collectors actually subscribed to Berenson’s dictum that “our grandfathers were thrilled by Guido Reni’s ecstatic visages, whose silly emptiness now rouses our laughter,” their interests for the most part lay in the “Great Masters” of the Dutch, Flemish, and English schools.

In the 1920s, the anti-Baroque sentiment began to reverse, and remarkably swiftly. The resurgence of interest in the Baroque began in Europe around World War I with the work of a handful of scholars, including the Swiss art historian Heinrich Wölfflin (1864–1945). Between the two world wars it continued to acquire increasing academic status. A new generation of scholars, mostly born in the 1880s and 1890s, such as the Italian art historians Giuseppe Fiocco, Roberto Longhi, Matteo Marangoni, and Antonio Muñoz; the German A. E. Brinckmann, Dagobert Frey, Nikolaus Pevsner, Hans Posse, and Werner Weisbach; and the English Tancred Borenius, Anthony Blunt, Denis Mahon, and Ellis Waterhouse, made the art of the Baroque increasingly familiar and accessible to specialists and students alike. A seminal event was the great exhibition in Florence in 1922, Mostra della pittura italiana del Seicento e del Settecento in Palazzo Pitti, with more than a thousand paintings representing artists of the period, from Francesco Albani to Antonio Zanchi, which opened the eyes of dealers, scholars, collectors, and the general public to the breadth and variety of Italian Baroque painting. The exhibition was followed by others in London and elsewhere devoted to the period, and inspired a growing number of specialist studies. Notable is Hermann Voss’s (1894–1987) influential Die Malerei des Barock in Rom (1924), which nearly a century later continues to provide a useful guide to painting in Rome, from the Carracci and Caravaggio to Anton Raphael Mengs and Domenico Corvi. In the same year, Sacheverell Sitwell (1897–1988) published Southern Baroque Art: A Study of Painting, Architecture and Music in Italy and Spain of the 17th & 18th Centuries, in which he boldly, if perhaps prematurely, declared, “Baroque art needs no defense now; the victory has been won a long time.”

The changing attitude of the 1920s toward Italian Baroque painting in America is reflected not only in the remarkable collection assembled by the circus master and entrepreneur John W. Ringling (1866–1936), but also in a host of American museum acquisitions. Harry B. Wehle (1887–1969), curator of European painting at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, whose own institution did not make a serious effort to collect Baroque paintings until relatively recently, noted in an article in the Museum’s Bulletin in 1929 that “[d]uring the past generation or two the entire body of baroque art, except the paintings of Rubens and Van Dyck, may be said to have been generally out of favor, but the last few years have shown signs of their gradual reinstatement in the public’s good estimation.” The culmination of this remarkable decade of activity was the first American exhibition of Italian Baroque paintings, Exhibition of Italian XVII and XVIII Century Paintings and Drawings, held at the Fogg Art Museum in January and February 1929.

Thanks to Eric Zafran, we have a detailed, decade-by-decade account of the rehabilitation of the Italian Baroque in America, which is well beyond the scope of this introduction. The developments in the 1930s and 1940s are to a large extent dominated by the activities of John Ringling (Pietro da Cortona, Hagar and the Angel, acquired 1930); A. Everett “Chick” Austin, Jr. (1900–1957), director of the Wadsworth Atheneum, who in 1943 acquired Caravaggio’s Saint Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy, for years the only authentic work by the artist in the United States, which he bought for $17,000 from Arnold Seligmann, Rey & Co., New York; and Samuel H. Kress (1863–1955), the businessman and philanthropist and founder of the S. H. Kress & Co. five- and ten-cent stores. From 1927 to 1936 Kress bought exclusively from the Italian art dealer Alessandro Contini-Bonacossi (1878–1955), who conceived the ambitious, improbable project of acquiring a fine work by every known Italian master. By 1935 Kress had already invested the rough equivalent of $60 million in today’s money in his collection; in the next two years he more than doubled that outlay. In accordance with the taste of the day, Kress’s earliest purchases were almost all Italian Renaissance works from the thirteenth to the sixteenth centuries, with the notable exception of a group of eighteenth-century Venetian paintings and a fine Interior of the Pantheon, Rome by Giovanni Paolo Panini acquired in 1927 (ca. 1734; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.). It may be that Contini shrewdly kept from Kress the excesses of Italian Seicento painting—the martyrdoms, adorations, and penitent saints that to the Victorians epitomized the sick sensuality, melodrama, superstition, and popery of the period—but when Kress acquired Tanzio da Varallo’s Saint Sebastian (fig. 3) in 1935, he was certainly swimming against established taste. The work of Tanzio remains as shockingly original today as it did in 1922, when the Saint Sebastian startled visitors to the exhibition at the Palazzo Pitti in Florence (where the painting’s authorship was correctly identified by Roberto Longhi) and brought the vivid and eccentric character of his art to a wide audience for the first time. To some degree, however, Samuel Kress is an outlier within the context of this book because he set out a priori to create a collection ranging from Cimabue to the end of the eighteenth century, and thus acquired the very Italian paintings that collectors like Andrew Mellon and Henry Clay Frick had shunned.

After Kress became ill in the early 1940s, the responsibility for the future growth and development of the collection fell upon the shoulders of his younger brother, Rush H. Kress (1877–1963), who, with the advice of the restorers Stephen Pichetto (1887–1949) and later Mario Modestini (1907–2006; see the essay by Marco Grassi in this volume), and the art historians Wilhelm Suida (1877–1959) and Robert Manning (1924–1996), set out to form “not only the most complete but also the most beautiful collection of Italian Baroque painting,” in the words of a memorandum of 1949. The moment was propitious because the 1950s were a golden age for acquiring Baroque paintings; never before (or since) were they so cheap and plentiful. The social, political, and economic upheavals of World War II resulted in the dispersal of many great aristocratic collections, particularly in England, and suddenly large numbers of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Italian paintings were available on the London art market.

What really fired enthusiasm for the Baroque in America was the availability of fine works by these neglected masters that could be acquired for a few hundred or a few thousand dollars. In the mid-1940s, one British pound equaled four American dollars; in 1948, the exchange rate was £;1 = $2.80. At the Ellesmere sale at Christie’s, London, in October 1946, paintings by the Carracci, Domenichino, and Guido Reni, artists who a century earlier had been revered in England as the flowers of the Seicento, sold for prices that are scarcely believable today. A Vision of Saint Francis by Annibale Carracci painted on copper (formerly Sir John Pope-Hennessy Collection, now National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa) fetched £;23 ($92). Domenichino’s The Way to Calvary, a small masterpiece also on copper of around 1610 (also owned by Pope-Hennessy, now in the J. Paul Getty Museum), brought £;42 ($168). And one of the finest Baroque pictures in the Kress Collection, Lodovico Carracci’s The Dream of Saint Catherine of Alexandria (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; fig. 4), acquired from Contini in 1950, brought only £;52 ($210) at the Ellesmere sale.

In the early 1950s, the prices of Italian seventeenth-century pictures remained exceptionally low in relation to their artistic quality and historical importance. Buying in London, dealers such as Julius Weitzner, David Koetser, Elkan and Abris Silberman, Frederick Kleinberger, Nicholas Acquavella, Frederick Mont, and Oscar Klein shrewdly seized the opportunity and brought these paintings to New York for sale. At the same time, a small number of inspired collectors realized the extraordinary opportunity before them, and around 1950, as various authors in this volume note, Walter Chrysler, Jr., Luis Ferré, Paul Ganz, Robert and Bertina Suida Manning, and Dr. Bob Jones, Jr., all began to form their important eponymous collections. Among these, the collection of Paul H. Ganz (1910–1986) is perhaps the least familiar today, owing to the dispersal of more than a thousand paintings. Onetime president of the Prince Matchabelli Perfume Company, which his father Saul, a perfume manufacturer, had purchased in 1936, Ganz was a notable eccentric, remembered fondly by many, both for his enthusiasm for the Italian Baroque and for the late-night soirées he and his wife, Eula, held in their apartment at 1185 Park Avenue, inevitably centered around their collection, which ranged from works by Scarsellino, Giovanni Baglione, Cerano, Morazzone, Ludovico Cigoli, Carlo Francesco Nuvolone, Francesco Francanzano, Pietro Testa, and Mattia Preti to Giovanni Battista Gaulli, Pietro Bianchi, and Giuseppe Chiari.

An insatiable collector, Ganz continuously bought, sold, and traded Italian Baroque paintings. His pictures contributed significantly to the collections formed by Luis Ferré in Ponce (see the essay by Pablo Pérez d’Ors in this volume); his friends Mary Jane and Morton B. Harris (some of which were subsequently given by them to The Metropolitan Museum of Art and to the Palmer Museum at Penn State University, respectively); and Channing Blake, a young New York enthusiast for the Italian Baroque whose collection is now largely at the Springfield Museum of Art, Massachusetts. Representative of Ganz’s interests is a beautiful Herodias by Francesco Cairo (fig. 5), a fragment of a larger composition, which he gave to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1973 in memory of Rudolf Wittkower, whose classes he attended and to whom he was devoted.

With respect to the economics of collecting Italian Baroque painting, the 1950s were the halcyon years, for thereafter their prices began to rise, gradually in the 1960s and then sharply in the following decades. This can be illustrated by the history of a lovely small panel (12 × 15 1/2 inches) depicting The Rest on the Flight into Egypt by Bartolomeo Schedoni, one of several extant versions, which was bought around 1950–53 on the London art market by Julius Weitzner and sold to Victor Spark, who sold it to Frederick Mont, who offered it for $2–3,000 and then sold it in 1956 to Ganz. In 1968, he sold it to a private collector in New York City for $6,500, who lent it to The Metropolitan Museum of Art from 1987 until 1997, insured for $200,000 (later possibly $300,000). The painting was offered with an estimate of $400–600,000 at Sotheby’s in New York on January 28, 1999, and sold for $772,500.

Public institutions also bought advantageously in the 1950s and 1960s. Seicento Italian painting was not at all popular at the time of the opening of the Cleveland Museum of Art in 1916, and the institution was slow to add examples in this area. In 1929, a painting by Bernardo Strozzi was purchased, followed in 1950 by a powerful Vision of Saint Jerome by Giovanni Battista Langetti, but it was not until the 1960s that the Museum, under Sherman Lee (1918–2008) and Ann Lurie (1921–2010), began to concentrate on the Italian Baroque. In the space of a few years, paintings by Bernardo Cavallino, Giovanni Battista Gaulli, Luca Giordano, Orazio Gentileschi, Guercino, Johann Liss, Guido Reni, Sassoferrato, and Francesco Solimena were acquired, culminating in the purchase of Caravaggio’s Crucifixion of Saint Andrew in 1976. The acquisition of Italian Baroque paintings in Toledo and Minneapolis, under the aegis of Otto Wittmann (1911–2001) and Anthony M. Clark (1923–1976), respectively, followed a similar pattern. For example, beginning in 1960 and buying largely from Colnaghi and Agnew’s in London, the Toledo Museum of Art acquired within a dozen years important paintings by Pompeo Batoni, Pietro da Cortona, Luca Giordano, Carlo Maratti, Sebastiano Ricci, and Francesco Solimena, as well as a magnificent large Feast of Herod by Mattia Preti, dated 1656–61, acquired for $25,000 from Colnaghi in 1961. Minneapolis acquired some two dozen Italian Baroque paintings in the 1960s by Batoni, Castiglione, Cortona, Gaulli, Corrado Giaquinto, Guercino, Salvator Rosa, and Bartolomeo Schedoni. Significantly, during these very same years, Burton Fredericksen was acquiring for the Getty Museum such pictures as Carlo Dolci’s polished and precise Saint Matthew Writing His Gospel (1670s), painted for his confessor as part of a series depicting the four evangelists. The result was that by the mid-1960s the Italian Baroque could be amply detailed with loans drawn from American collections in the important exhibition Art in Italy, 1600–1700 (Detroit, 1965), with works such as Tanzio da Varallo’s Saint John the Baptist in the Wilderness (Philbrook Art Museum, Tulsa; acquired by Samuel H. Kress in 1939) and Guercino’s Semiramis Receiving Word of the Revolt of Babylon (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; acquired in 1948 for $1,130). Even more narrowly focused exhibitions such as Genoese Masters: Cambiaso to Magnasco, organized by Robert and Bertina Suida Manning and shown in Dayton, Sarasota, and Hartford in 1962, and Florentine Baroque Art, organized by Joan Nissman for The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1969, which included paintings by such recherché artists as Giovanni Balducci and Giovanni Battista Lupicini as well as the more familiar painters Carlo Dolci, Francesco Furini, Lorenzo Lippi, and Simone Pignoni, could be assembled almost exclusively from American collections.

The Samuel H. Kress Collection remains central to the theme of this book, however, because one of its distinguishing features is the variety, number, and quality of its Italian Baroque paintings. The Kress Foundation took shrewd advantage of the relative neglect of later Italian painting in the 1940s and 1950s to acquire such important examples of the Baroque and its aftermath as Antonio de Bellis’s Sacrifice of Noah (ca. 1645–50; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; acquired from Julius Weitzner in 1945); Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione’s Allegory of Vanity (ca. 1647–49; Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City; acquired from Weitzner in 1952); and Giovanni Battista Gaulli’s Thanksgiving of Noah and Abraham’s Sacrifice of Isaac (ca. 1685–90; High Museum of Art, Atlanta; acquired from Alessandro Contini-Bonacossi in 1950).

That these paintings are now in Houston, Kansas City, and Atlanta and not in the National Gallery of Art, as intended, underscores the recurrent prejudice against Italian Baroque painting in America. From the moment of Samuel Kress’s initial gift to the National Gallery in 1939, he endorsed the principle of exchanges to improve the quality of the collections on view in Washington. For twenty years—from the opening of the Kress Collection Galleries in 1941 until the presentation of the final Kress gifts in 1961—paintings had been delivered to Washington, exhibited at the Gallery, and either retained for its collections or, in the case of most of the Italian Baroque pictures, returned to New York for dispersal to one of the Kress regional galleries. The result is a superlative collection of Italian Renaissance paintings in Washington but a collection in which the absence of the major figures of the Italian Baroque—Domenichino, Caravaggio, Guido Reni, Cortona, Castiglione, Mola, Rosa, Gaulli—is conspicuous.

The decision to relinquish the majority of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century paintings to the regional galleries was made by John Walker (1906–1995), the Gallery’s chief curator from 1938–56 and its director from 1956–69. Walker was a disciple of Bernard Berenson, who in 1948 had written, “In Europe itself art history must avoid what has not contributed to the main stream, no matter how interesting, how magnificent in itself. It should exclude, for instance, most German and even Spanish and Dutch Art. It should dwell less and less on Italian art after Caravaggio, and end altogether by the middle of the eighteenth century with Solimena and Tiepolo.” Thus, Walker encouraged the Kress Foundation to create a great collection of Renaissance paintings and sculpture for the National Gallery, but his disinclination to bolster the museum’s Baroque holdings is especially frustrating today, when the prices and rarity of great pictures of the period have made them almost unobtainable. Notable Baroque paintings that would be in the Kress Collection in the National Gallery if not for Walker’s opposition include Valentin de Boulogne’s Musical Party, acquired by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1998, a superb work painted in Rome about 1626 by the greatest French Caravaggesque master, and by virtue of its quality, provenance, and subject without parallel in the National Gallery collections. Another is Caravaggio’s brooding, melancholic Saint John the Baptist in the Wilderness (1604–5), now in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, which Mario Modestini and the Kress staff desperately wanted to acquire in 1952. Ultimately, the Italian Baroque pictures Washington lost, Raleigh, Houston, Memphis, Kansas City, El Paso, San Francisco, Tulsa, and other cities gained.

The collecting of Italian Baroque paintings in America is a rich and fascinating subject, many aspects of which invite further inquiry; for example, the circumstances that led to some of the remarkable, if anomalous, acquisitions of Italian Baroque paintings in America before 1900, such as the bold and dramatic Resurrection of Christ by Francesco Buoneri, called Cecco del Caravaggio, one of Caravaggio’s closest followers, acquired by the Art Institute of Chicago in 1834, as well as the activities of nineteenth-century collectors like Thomas Jefferson Bryan (1800–1870). Although the purchase in Rome in 1902 by Henry Walters (1848–1931) of the large collection assembled by Don Marcello Massarenti, a priest and member of the papal court, was dominated by pictures by or in the manner of Italian Renaissance artists, it did contain a number of important Baroque pictures, including Domenico Fetti’s Flying and Adoring Angels (ca. 1614), a fragment of an altarpiece devoted to the Madonna and Child, once in the church of San Lorenzo in Damaso and the most important extant work of the artist’s early period in Rome; his copy of Titian’s Christ and the Tribute Money in Dresden, painted for Duke Alfonso d’Este; Bernardo Strozzi’s Adoration of the Shepherds (1650s); and Luca Giordano’s Ecce Homo (1650s) also merit further attention.

The role of the art dealer in creating a new taste for the neglected Italian seventeenth century in America is another important subject, and in this volume the importance of Count Alessandro Contini-Bonacossi in encouraging Samuel Kress’s collecting, and of Andrew Ciechanowiecki (1924–2015), who as the director of Heim Gallery in London spurred interest in the Baroque as a field of collecting in America, established the precedent of scholarly dealer catalogues, and sold many paintings of the period to American art museums, have been discussed. But scholars in the field of the history of collecting could also profit by delving into the role and activities of the art dealers in New York in the 1950s, notably Julius H. Weitzner (1896–1986) and David M. Koetser, a Dutch-English dealer who settled in New York after the war and in 1953 sold the Kress Collection an important group of Italian Baroque pictures, as well as the more prominent English dealers in the area of Italian Baroque pictures, such as Sir Jack Baer, or the group of young men who gathered around the late Roddy Thesiger (1915–2005) at Colnaghi in the 1970s, including Patrick Matthiesen and Michael Simpson, who have also played a significant part in our story.

And in the present day the 2013 reinstallation of the Metropolitan Museum’s European paintings galleries has given pride of place to the Italian Baroque and to the many important pictures acquired in recent years; many great paintings of the period have enriched other American museums over the past three decades, such as Mattia Preti’s magnificent Saint John the Baptist Preaching (ca. 1665), acquired by the Legion of Honor, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, in 1981, Orazio Gentileschi’s Lot and His Daughters (ca. 1622), acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum in 1998, and Guercino’s Christ and the Woman of Samaria (1619–20), acquired by the Kimbell Art Museum from Adam Williams Fine Art in 2010 in memory of Ted Pillsbury (1943–2010), the Museum’s distinguished longtime director; and private collectors in the field, such as Mark Fisch, Jon Landau, Cliff Schorer, and Nelson Shanks, have also been active in recent years. All these serve as vivid reminders of a shift in attitude toward a more positive view of this “feeble and fallen school.”