Three Centuries of Art and Architecture at the Portland Museum of Art

Three Centuries of Art and Architecture at the Portland Museum of Art – The Journal of Antiques and Collectibles – October 2002

Restored Federal-era McLellan House and Beaux-Arts L. D. M. Sweat Memorial Galleries Reopen.

On Saturday, October 5, 2002, the Portland Museum of Art, Portland, ME,  will reopen to the public two fully-restored historic buildings which were the original Museum until 1980: the McLellan House (1800-1801), a National Historic Landmark and preeminent example of Federal-era architecture, and the Lorenzo de Medici (L. D. M.) Sweat Memorial Galleries (1911), a series of sky-lit Beaux-Arts galleries designed by John Calvin Stevens. These magnificent historic structures will be reunited with the Museum’s modern Charles Shipman Payson building (1983), designed by I. M. Pei & Partners, to create a unique museum complex spanning three centuries of art and architecture. The new museum complex will chart the evolution of the American art museum, creating a visitor experience unlike any in the nation.

When the new Portland Museum of Art opens, visitors will be able to travel through three architecturally significant buildings that span two centuries. From the post-modern Charles Shipman Payson building (an American museum in the late 20th century) to the early 20th-century L. D. M. Sweat Memorial Galleries (exemplifying early professionalism of American museums) to an early 19th-century home (whose transformation into a museum in 1908 reflects early efforts to record and collect American history), these buildings together embody the history of the American art museum.

Upon completion, the newly-restored L. D. M. Sweat Memorial Galleries will create a space to exhibit a far greater portion of the Museum’s permanent collections, particularly its growing collection of 18th- and 19th-century American paintings, sculpture, and decorative arts. The grace and allure of the John Calvin Stevens-designed galleries will provide a historic setting that will serve as an ideal transition between the modern Charles Shipman Payson building and the Federal-era McLellan House. The Galleries will showcase American art up to 1900, an important period in American history in which artists attempted to establish and define an America identity. Winslow Homer, the father of American art, will be the highlighted artist with a gallery reserved exclusively for his work. The Rotunda will feature marble sculptures including works by Benjamin Paul Akers, Hiram Powers, and Franklin Simmons. In addition, the lower ground floor of the Galleries will include newly-designed studio spaces for artmaking activities, doubling the previous studio space.

The completely preserved McLellan House will become a place for visitors to learn about 19th-century architecture and design. The interior finish of the House will be restored to the Federal period and the principal rooms will be installed with vibrant wall colors, wallpapers, carpeting, and furniture that will encourage active use of the space and will provide an appropriate learning environment. Visitors will use state-of-the-art interactive computer technology at mobile workstations to make meaningful connections among the architectural and design features of the House and 19th-century works in the Museum’s collection.

By learning about past residents of the House, visitors will be able to explore detailed information about the social, economic, political, and artistic history of the 19th century, and to see how the story of art and patronage in 19th-century America was shaped. In addition to the educational role that this dynamic center will assume, it will also provide comfortable and elegant spaces for activities, including meetings, lectures, and receptions.

The Museum’s restoration and construction project, which began in October 2000, is costing $8.6 million to complete. Ann Beha Architects of Boston, Massachusetts, a firm with extensive experience working with historic properties, has been involved in the project as the chief architects from its very early planning stages. Pamela W. Hawkes is the Principal architect on the project. Pizzagalli Construction Company of South Portland, Maine, is overseeing and managing the construction process and is the same company responsible for the construction of the Museum’s I. M. Pei & Partners building, completed in 1983.

Portland Museum of Art’s Collection

The Museum’s collection contains more than 15,000 fine and decorative works of art dating from the 18th century to the present. Works by artists such as Marsden Hartley, Winslow Homer, Rockwell Kent, Louise Nevelson, John Singer Sargent, Andrew Wyeth, and Marguerite Zorach showcase the unique artistic heritage of the United States and Maine. The major European movements, from Impressionism through Surrealism, are represented by the Scott M. Black, Albert Otten, and Joan Whitney Payson Collections, which include works by Mary Cassatt, Edgar Degas, René Magritte, Claude Monet, Edvard Munch, Pablo Picasso, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, among others. The Museum’s sculpture collection includes a remarkable range of work, from Benjamin Paul Aker’s The Dead Pearl Diver (1858), the Museum’s first acquisition, and a comprehensive collection of neoclassical sculpture by Franklin Simmons to a mobile by Alexander Calder (1948), Gaston Lachaise’s Garden Figure (1935), a spectrum of works by William Zorach, and an enviable collection of bronzes by European masters from Auguste Rodin to Henry Moore.

The Museum began with artworks donated by the artists who founded the Portland Society of Art in 1882. This core collection of paintings by Harrison Bird Brown, Charles Codman, Charles Octavius Cole, John Greenleaf Cloudman, Charles Frederick Kimball, and sculpture by Benjamin Paul Akers and Franklin Simmons documents the remarkable artistic activity in Portland during the 19th century. A more ambitious phase of collecting was launched in the early 20th century. Today, the collection fully documents the incredible history of art in Maine–spanning the careers of such artists as Frederic Church, Winslow Homer, Alex Katz, Rockwell Kent, and Louise Nevelson–and also illustrates the significant connections between Maine art and national and international movements of the 19th and 20th centuries. Along with its permanent collection, the Museum presents 12 to 18 changing exhibitions each year that include regional and national traveling shows.

American Collection   ~   Winslow Homer Collection

In 1976, Charles Shipman Payson gave his outstanding collection of 17 works by Winslow Homer to the Museum: four oils and 13 watercolors. Additional notable Homer gifts have included his first oil painting, Sharpshooter, a significant transitional watercolor from the 1870s, a graphite portrait, and a nearly comprehensive collection (400) of his illustrations were given to the Museum by Dr. Harold and Mrs. Peggy Osher in 1991. The graphics collection includes more than 90% of Homer’s graphic output and chronicles the artist’s early career as a commercial illustrator.

Hamilton Easter Field Art Foundation Collection

In 1979 a gift from the Barn Gallery Associates of the Hamilton Easter Field Art Foundation Collection brought to the Museum more than 50 paintings, sculptures, and works on paper that document the rise of American modernism in the early 20th century.  Hamilton Easter Field is little known today, yet in his own lifetime he was recognized as an important proponent of modern art and who, in 1911, established the Summer School of Graphic Arts in Ogunquit, Maine. Highlights of the collection include works by George Ault, Peggy Bacon, Stuart Davis, Marsden Hartley, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, and Robert Laurent.

Elizabeth B. Noyce Collection

In 1996, Elizabeth B. Noyce, art collector, Maine philanthropist, and former Museum trustee bequeathed 66 works of American art to the Museum, the most extensive and diverse gift of American art ever presented to the Museum.  The gift of the Noyce Collection transformed the scope and quality of the Museum’s American collection, bringing to the Museum its first paintings by George Bellows, Alfred Thompson Bricher, Abraham Walkowitz, and Jamie Wyeth, and adding masterpieces to the collection by Childe Hassam, Fitz Hugh Lane, and N. C. Wyeth.

European Collection

Complementing the Museum’s holdings in 19th- and 20th-century American art is the European art collection, which has increased dramatically during the past decade.

The Joan Whitney Payson Collection*

In 1991 the Museum received 26 paintings and works on paper from The Joan Whitney Payson Collection by such artists as Edgar Degas, Paul Gauguin, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Henri Rousseau. The Payson collection has allowed visitors to discover, study, and enjoy Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, and Modernist paintings of a caliber seen nowhere else in Maine public collections. The Museum shares this collection with the Colby Museum of Art at Colby College inWaterville, Maine, which exhibits the works for one semester every two years. The Payson Collection demonstrates works of an extraordinary vision spanning both sides of the Atlantic, from the masterful canvases of European artists such as Paul Cézanne, Marc Chagall, and Honoré Daumier, to the genius of American artists exemplified in watercolors by Maurice Prendergast, John Singer Sargent, and Andrew Wyeth.

The Scott M. Black Collection*

Maine native Scott M. Black has developed a remarkable collection of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, and Modernist works during the past 15 years, beginning with his purchase of an Auguste Rodin bronze in 1985.  Since that time the collection has grown to include major examples of the work of Fernand Léger, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, and Paul Signac. Black grew up in Portland in a family of modest means.

Albert Otten Collection*

On view at the Museum since 1993, this magnificent collection created by Albert Otten is on loan from his widow Mildred Otten. This collection surveys important developments in European art from the late 19th century to the mid-20th century, including Post-Impressionism, Expressionism, Surrealism, and Cubism. This unique collection includes 75 paintings, sculptures, and works on paper and boasts a broad subject matter, ranging from landscapes and figure studies to still lifes. Among the artists included are Hans Arp, Edvard Munch, Emile Nolde, and Max Pechstein.

Print Collection

The Museum’s collection of 20th-century prints is especially strong, with examples by Jim Dine, Jasper Johns, Komar & Melamid, Robert Motherwell, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg, Alison Saar, and Andy Warhol.

Photography Collection

The photography collection surveys the history of that medium and includes bodies of work by Berenice Abbott, Edward Curtis, Chansonetta Stanley Emmons, Ernst Haas, Leon Levinstein, Eadweard Muyridge, Aaron Siskind, and Paul Strand.

Decorative Arts

Decorative arts encompass an exemplary glass collection, export ceramics and metals related to Portland’s trade history, a wide range of artifacts with a history of manufacturing in Portland, and a core collection of Federal- and Empire-era furniture associated with the Museum’s McLellan-House (1800-01).

Glass Collection

The Museum’s glass collection, consisting of more than 2,000 pieces, has been significantly broadened and enriched by a bequest from Sylvia Greenberg of more than 250 examples of late 19th- and early 20th-century glass in 2001.  The collection includes masterpieces by an international array of the finest glassmakers, including Baccarat, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Stevens and Williams, and Thomas Webb and Sons.

*collections on long-term loan
Photos courtesy of Portland Museum of Art

Museum Information

The Portland Museum of Art is located at Seven Congress Square in downtown Portland. The Museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursday and Friday. Memorial Day through Columbus Day, the Museum is open on Mondays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors and students with I.D., $2 for youth to 6 to 17, and under 6 are free. The Museum is free on Friday evenings from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tours available on Tuesdays and Saturdays at 2 p.m., and Fridays at 6:30 p.m. Museum Café and Shop. Web site: www.portlandmuseum.org  For more information, call 207-775-6148 or 1-800-639-4067.