47 works include major pieces by Toulouse-Lautrec.
The High Museum of Art will announce a gift of 47 European works of art today, including prized pieces by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, that the Atlanta institution counts as among the most significant donations ever to its permanent collection.
The works — including important prints and drawings by Pierre Bonnard, Honore Daumier, Edgar Degas, Paul Gauguin and Paul Signac — are being given by Atlanta collectors Irene and Howard Stein. The Steins also are contributing sculptures by Charles Cordier, Jules Dalou, Martin Desjardins and Pieter Xavery.
The Toulouse-Lautrecs include major works by the French master such as “La Clownesse au Moulin Rouge” (1897), a rare color lithograph, and “Miss Loie Fuller” (1893), a ghostly image of the famed American dancer that incorporates powdered gold.
High Museum European art curator David Brenneman, in an exclusive interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, called the Steins’ gift “transformative” for the Atlanta museum. The donated works will give the High “a national strength in the area specifically of Toulouse-Lautrec, but also in the area of late 19th-century European art, ” he said.
Brenneman, who also serves as director of collections and exhibitions, said the expanded holdings of Toulouse-Lautrec prints and posters will rank the High with the Art Institute of Chicago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Washington’s National Gallery of Art and the Boston and San Diego museums of art.
“Pretty good company, ” Brenneman said. “There’s really no other component of the European collection at the moment where we can say that.”
The High, which declined to reveal the gift’s value, will mount a special exhibition, “Toulouse-Lautrec and Friends: The Stein Collection, ” in January. In addition to the 47 new gifts, the exhibit will include 30 works that were either given to the High by the Steins or acquired with their support. Among these is a rare complete set of Toulouse-Lautrec’s lithographic “The Elles Series” (1896).
Born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., the Steins moved to Atlanta in the early 1970s to be closer to their carpet mill. They began collecting art in the 1970s, becoming more serious after retiring in the early 1990s.
Brenneman, then newly arrived at the High, entered the picture 15 years ago. “When I started out here as a very young, wet-behind-the-ears curator, Irene and Howard had just retired and they were looking for someone to go on this collecting journey with them, ” said the curator, who traveled to galleries and art shows in Europe with the couple. “So we’ve developed a really nice relationship, which for me has been an added bonus. We’ve worked very closely together. They’ve helped us and I’ve tried to help them.”
The 47 works being announced today date from the late 19th century, a time of change in European art.
Toulouse-Lautrec was the leader of a cadre of French artists, following in the wake of the impressionists, who bucked the art establishment of the time. Brenneman said Toulouse-Lautrec exhibited his genius not only as a “brilliant draftsman” but in his understanding of the power of posters.
“One of the people he depicted, Aristide Bruant, the cabaret singer, said his posters were like a fist in the face, ” the curator said, “that they really grabbed you and confronted you.”