The “Gallery of the Louvre” by Samuel Morse is on its way to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in January, and the painting has a great story to tell.
Whispers sat down with curator Peter John Brownlee of the Terra Foundation for American Art, which owns the painting, and he gave us the inside scoop on this wonderful piece of American art history.
The 184-year-old work, created when there were no museums in the United States, and when livestock ran free in the streets of New York City, came over unfinished on a ship from France.
Once completed and on display in the U.S. in 1833, it failed, twice, in part because the public just wasn’t ready for fine art. Circuses and sideshows were more in vogue in those days.
Crushed by the tepid reception, Morse abandoned art all together to pursue what would become a revolutionary career in science and technology by creating Morse Code, the cellphone of its day.
His painting, meanwhile, wound up hanging first at a manor house near Otsego Lake, and then at a dining hall at Syracuse University. The school sold the work in 1981 to Italian immigrant and ink magnate Daniel J. Terra for $3.4 million, then a record for historical American art.
The painting, Morse’s greatest hits, if you will, is a mashup of works by some of the biggest names in pre-Modern art: da Vinci, Titian, Rembrandt, Rubens, Raphael, and the ultimate bad boy of fine art, Caravaggio.
Restored in 2010, all its blemishes have been removed. Its surface has a new coat of varnish, and the six-foot-by-nine-foot canvas, which glows with a golden patina, sits in a reinforced frame that just might be the original from Paris.
This is the work’s second national tour. It has also been back to Europe, and prior to that, toured the East Coast. This rugged piece of art has five more stops after Crystal Bridges, and will likely head overseas yet again.
While it’s in Bentonville, it will have an entire room to itself in the north gallery.
Once a source of disillusionment for its creator, the “Gallery of the Louvre” is now insured for $40 million.