Artists often decide to keep a few of their own works for their own collections, which sometimes include experimental works, sketches, or works of special significance to them. Many artists also acquire works by other artists. Looking at the works artists add to their personal collections can help us understand their persona, aesthetics, and influences.
Some artists assemble major personal collections. Claude Monet, for example, collected many Japanese prints and dozens of works by his contemporaries including Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edouard Manet, and Paul Cézanne, among others. Edgar Degas’s large personal collection became clear at the posthumous series of sales in 1918, which revealed works by Mary Cassatt and Cézanne, but also artists of earlier eras, from El Greco to Ingres. Pablo Picasso was also an avid collector of works by Henri Matisse, Renoir, Cezanne, and more.
Our collection includes many examples of a work created by one artist that was subsequently owned by another artist before we acquired it.
American artist Alfred Henry Maurer (1868–1932) painted Head in 1929, near the end of his life. The work, representing the more abstract phase of his career, was in the collection of pioneering American photographer Berenice Abbott (1898-1991) before the early 1950s.
When properly preserved, original labels and information on the back of a painting provide important glimpses into its history. The back of this work includes Abbott’s collection label, preserved intact, with her address in New York City that she shared with her partner and collaborator Elizabeth McCausland (1899–1965). McCausland, a notable art historian and critic, was working on a biography of Maurer during the mid-1900s, which may explain why this painting was in Abbott’s collection.
Other labels on the back of this painting tell us that, by the early 1950s, Head was in the collection of the great Pittsburgh art collector G. David Thompson. In 1953, Thompson lent the painting to the inaugural installation of our own Gallery of Contemporary Art. Thompson strongly supported the installation both financially and with loans from his collection, several of which were later gifted to CMOA.
Berenice Abbott is represented in our collection by several works, one of which is her 1927 portrait of another photographer, Eugène Atget.
In yet another connection, Abbott’s Atget portrait was a gift from another artist-collector—eminent photographer and Pittsburgh-area native Duane Michals (b. 1932). Several of Michals’s 1965 photographs of another artist, René Magritte, are also in the museum’s collection.
This painting by Henri Rousseau (1844–1910) was in the collection of the American artist Max Weber (1881–1961) for more than 50 years until his death in 1961.
We usually think of artists as the makers of artworks. Each of the works in this tour eventually became part of CMOA’s collection. Is there something interesting you discovered about the artworks artists decided to collect?
Look around your living space. Identify an object you have collected that you really enjoy having in your life. In our museum, labels next to the objects on view provide information that might reveal why they are important to the museum collection. Try writing a label for the object you’ve selected. Does your object have a title? Do you know who made it or when? Do you remember how or where you acquired it? Most importantly, write a few sentences to describe your object, and why you are happy that it is in your collection.