Case Study

"Dutch Orphans Reunited"

Govaert Flinck "Group of Figures"
After Treatment

Fortune Shines
C. A. Ficke here. Talk about dry, academic, writing! It's not Barry's fault--he means well. In any case, how about that for a cleaning change? I knew there was a painting under there someplace. I would bet there was three hundred and fifty years of discoloration on my poor child.
But let's go back to 1916. Here I am in my favorite evening chair enjoying a fragrant cigar and sipping a glass of port, as is my pleasure after a hard day dealing more with office tedium than physical work. Due to my art interests, I'm often sent catalogues from area organizations. Most of these aren't worth the time of day but occasionally something interesting comes along. I always enjoyed reading Aesthetics, a journal published by the Hackley Art Gallery in Muskegon, Michigan, and written initially by its first director, Raymond Wyer. (In 1980, the gallery changed its name to the Muskegon Museum of Art.)

Aesthetics  April-July 1916
As I leafed through their latest publication I was completely dumbstruck by what I saw. (12) It was a moment hard to believe--the moment when a lost child is found. Page thirty in the journal featured an image of their recent acquisition, with the caption: "Fragment of a Large Painting by Gerbrand Van den Eeckhout, Dutch, Seventeenth Century."

Fragment of a Large Painting by Gerbrand Van
den Eeckhout, Dutch, Seventeenth Century.
The Hackley painting, titled "Figures," had been purchased for $185 from the estate of Theron J. Blakeslee. (13) The sale was carried out at auction through the American Art Association on March 6, 1916, in New York. (14) Similar to Flinck, Eeckhout studied under Rembrandt for a period of time. What caught my eye was the protruding arm in the lower left corner. It seemed this might actually connect to the missing arm in my painting. I immediately wrote the below letter to Mr. Wyer.

September 5, 1916, Letter
I just knew these pictures had their own destiny, as if Divine Providence was somehow involved. When I received the measurements, H. 72" x W. 32 1/2", it was certainly astonishing to me that their painting was 24" taller than mine. I then wrote the following to Miss Lulu Miller, the gallery's second director.

October 28, 1916, Letter
Viewing both sections, I was able to understand the paintings' "unknown" subject matter: "Christ being shown to the People," or "Ecce Homo." What a glorious moment for my orphan. Due to the on-going war overseas I did not keep up a timely correspondence with the Hackley Art Gallery, but I did manage to get one note off to them in 1917 and I share this with you below.

July 5, 1917, Letter
Four years went by, four very good years, when I happened to discuss the two segments with a reporter from the Davenport Democrat newspaper. He was more than intrigued with my discovery since the paper had recently reviewed the discovery of Rubens's Descent from the Cross that had disappeared during the late war. He agreed to write a story on the two segments. His article appeared in the paper on May 1, 1921, and for your interest I offer below the image that appeared in the paper. This was the first time the two sections were ever published "together." I apologize for the condition of the image for my copy of the article is damaged, which accounts for the white "losses" in the photo.

The Davenport Democratic. May 1, 1921.
Below I include the text from the story. An interesting point in the article is the reference that Blakeslee purchased my section from a London dealer. This is what Blakeslee originally told me, but I've never been able to confirm it. I've asked Barry to review the Blakeslee ledgers that are held at the Smithsonian Archives of American Art in Washington, D.C. Hopefully he'll be able to glean further provenancial material from this source. (15)

The Davenport Democratic. May 1, 1921.

The Davenport Democratic. May 1, 1921.
I'm sad to say that during my lifetime the two sections were never physically brought together. I wrote numerous letters to the Hackley Art Gallery but to no avail. When I published my Memories of Fourscore Years I stated: "The two segments are destined to remain forever separated because neither the Davenport Municipal Art Gallery, the present owner of the one, nor the Hackley Art Gallery, the owner of the other, will ever want to surrender their respective one."(16) It wasn't until 2008, a full century after I bought my beloved painting, that negotiations between the Figge Art Museum and the Muskegon Museum of Art began for the transfer of their section to the Figge Art Museum.
Ms. Jane Connell, director of collections and exhibitions and senior curator at the Muskegon Museum of Art, initiated the transfer. (17) In correspondence she stated: "From our point of view, the paintings do not hold together alone. If they were going to have any real art historical substance, they needed to be accessible and exhibited and kept together as a unit in one location. And of course all the correspondence and newspaper articles over the years point to that desire. . . . Because of their terrible condition, ours was rarely exhibited and I assume the same held true for the Figge. . . . I feel strongly that deaccessioning is a good and appropriate thing and that it is ethically good to deaccession both for sale/acquisition funds and to place works in other public locations whenever possible. This was one of those perfect moments to 'do the right thing' and have the backup of the historical desire to see them together as well." (18) I couldn't have stated it any better myself, but it took Ms. Connell and the Muskegon Museum of Art to make it happen. God bless.
And so it happened. The completed section was still in Barry's studio when the Figge's new acquisition arrived for treatment on December 9, 2009. Once again, I have asked Barry to outline the painting's examination and treatment on the following pages.
(12) Cover image and following correspondence letters sent to the author by Ms. Jane Connell, director of collections and exhibitions and senior curator at the Muskegon Museum of Art. Material received May 29, 2010.
(13) Sale price was included in museum's registrarial record and corroborated in a hand-written notation in the Art Institute of Chicago's copy of Blakeslee's 1916 sale catalogue.
(14) The previously cited March 8, 1914, New York Times obituary article reported that Blakeslee may have been despondent over recent financial circumstances. He committed suicide on March 7, 1914. The estate sale took place two years after is death.
(15) The Smithsonian Archives of American Art, Washington D.C., owns nine unmicrofilmed volumes of ledgers from the Blakeslee galleries, (accessed October 4, 2010).
(16) Ficke, Charles. Memories of Fourscore Years (Davenport, Iowa: Graphic Services Inc., 1930): 485. Special thanks to Mr. Peter Sixby, conservator with the State Historical Society of Iowa, for forwarding the relevant pages from Ficke's memoir.
(17) The transfer took place on March 9, 2009. This information was provided in an e-mail to the author dated October 21, 2010 by Mr. Art Martin, collections manager/assistant curator, Muskegon Museum of Art.
(18) E-mail correspondence to Barry Bauman October 5, 2010.


Table of Contents, Biography, Provenance, Examination, Treatment,
Fortune Shines, Examination


Barry Bauman Conservation
Contact: Mr. Barry Bauman
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