An American Perspective

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Beginning in October, the finest private collection of nineteenth-century American art will be on view in Washington, D. C.’s National Gallery before moving on to the Amon Carter Museum of Western Art and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It has been assembled by Julian and Jo Ann Ganz of Los Angeles; he is a trustee and chairman of the acquisitions committee at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and together they founded that museum’s American Art Council, a group of local collectors who support museum projects. Clearly, both are important and influential connoisseurs.

This was not the case seventeen years ago, in 1964, when they bought their first American painting, a portrait by Robert Henri, the great mentor of the Ashcan school. They could scarcely have chosen a more provocative artist for their premier acquisition; Henri’s vigorous influence on his students as well his eloquent formulations on painting stirred the Ganzes as they had stirred the art world of Henri’s day. Soon the couple was buying pictures by the American impressionists. Like many before them, they were collectors before they knew they were. “When obsession and debts occur,” says Julian Ganz, “that’s when you know you’re a collector.”

The Ganzes advanced as far into the twentieth century as Guy Pène duBois; then they reversed course and began to work backwards. “As the collection developed and as we saw other private collections,” Jo Ann Ganz says, “we began to realize the desirability of specializing in one area. And at the same time our taste shifted to earlier works.” Henri would not have felt betrayed. Throughout his life he taught that no one artistic style was preferable to another; all that mattered was that the artist caught something rare: “There are moments in our lives, there are moments in a day when we see beyond the usual. Such are the moments of our greatest happiness. Such are the moments of our greatest wisdom.”

More and more in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, the Ganzes found such moments reflected in the work of the painters of the mid-nineteenth century. They winnowed out virtually all their later works and acquired their nineteenthcentury holdings—nearly a hundred in all, half of them from the 1860’s and 1870’s. The collection includes sculpture and drawings, landscapes, still lifes, and genre paintings. For this portfolio we have drawn examples from the last category, which represents roughly half of the total collection. Our selection not only allows us to share an area of the collectors’ particular interest but it provides as well a calm, steady look at American life a century ago.