- Julián Zugazagoitia
The publication of the museum’s collection of French paintings marks a momentous occasion in the history of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. It represents the museum’s first foray into the field of digital publishing. However, it also continues a long line of major publications intended to document and illuminate sections of the museum’s collection, beginning in 1996 with the catalogue Italian Paintings 1300–1800, followed by German and Netherlandish Paintings, 1450–1600 (2005), American Paintings to 1945 (2007), Masterworks of Chinese Art (2011), Masterworks from India and Southeast Asia (2016), and Continuum: Native North American Art at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (March 2020).
At the time of this digital release, work is ongoing to produce the museum’s next catalogue of its magnificent Starr Collection of miniatures. Each of these catalogues, while addressing the same urgent need to publish in-depth scholarship of important aspects of the museum’s holdings, has a strongly individual character derived both from the nature of the material discussed and from the welcome diversity of approach and wealth of experience among the scholars who authored them.
The present catalogue publishes the holdings of French paintings from the 1600s to 1945. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is fortunate to possess celebrated examples of the work of Nicolas Poussin, Jean Siméon Chardin, Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, Jean-François Millet, Edouard Manet, Berthe Morisot, Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh, and Paul Gauguin, as well as a host of additional works by other artists, perhaps less familiar, presented with fresh perspectives in their lively histories so well documented here.
The catalogue represents the fruits of the labor of many talented individuals over the course of its development. It began in 2008 under the auspices of Simon Kelly, associate curator of European paintings and sculpture (2005–2010). That same year, Kelly hired the first project assistant for the catalogue, Meghan Gray, who ascended to the critical role of project manager. Paintings conservator Mary Schafer also joined the project in 2008 and remains an integral member of the catalogue team. The project continued under Nicole Myers, associate curator of European art (2010–2016), under whose tenure the idea of a digital catalogue arose. The catalogue gained new momentum and direction upon the arrival in the fall of 2016 of Aimee Marcereau DeGalan as the Louis L. and Adelaide C. Ward Senior Curator of European Arts, who served as project director, general editor, and author of many of the catalogue essays herein. Her streamlined efforts and decisiveness, in concert with Meghan Gray’s adept project management, brought this long-awaited project to completion.
This catalogue encompasses the most up-to-date scholarship and technical analysis of the museum’s collection of French paintings. It has been a stimulating project on many fronts, including the discovery of new facts and the advancement of new interpretations about so many great works of art. We are grateful to Nelson-Atkins conservators past and present, who thoroughly examined and investigated every French painting and drawing; to our Mellon scientist John Twilley, who examined select works on a technical and scientific level; to Nelson-Atkins staff, whose dedication to the project through its many iterations remained steadfast; and to scholarly colleagues around the world who contributed their learned insight. We are also grateful for the arrival, in the spring of 2020, of William Keyse Rudolph, deputy director of curatorial affairs, who began his tenure at a critical moment in the final stages of the catalogue’s production. We are honored to share their efforts with a wider public through the publication of this volume.
Any publication of this scale is by necessity a costly endeavor, and the importance of the generous financial contributions received for this project cannot be sufficiently emphasized. The National Endowment for the Arts made a crucial startup grant in 2009 to support the research and preparation of the manuscript. A Digital Interpretive Grant from the Kress Foundation in 2018 facilitated hiring a digital developer and digital assistant to produce many of the features of the present online version of the catalogue. Thanks likewise go to the donors, both corporate and private, whose contributions have formed the Mellon-Frick-Rothschild Fund, the museum’s own publication endowment. The Trustees of The William Rockhill Nelson Trust and the Nelson Gallery Foundation also deserve thanks. Their long-term commitment to projects that advance our understanding of the collection is made abundantly clear through their generous financial support of such endeavors. Finally, it is my great honor and privilege to acknowledge the Marion and Henry Bloch Family Foundation, without whose support this final push to complete the catalogue would not have been possible. To them, we owe a heartfelt and humble thank you.
We invite every member of the museum’s extended family to take pride in this long-awaited and important publication. We think you will see that it was worth the wait!