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Impressionism to Modernism

The Keithley Collection
Heather Lemonedes Brown, Virginia N. and Randall J. Barbato Deputy Director and Chief Curato
October 27, 2023
Villas at Trouville, 1884. Gustave Caillebotte (French, 1848–1894).  2020.105 

Impressionism to Modernism: The Keithley Collection, one of this fall’s exhibitions, will celebrate the extraordinary gift and promised gift of art from Clevelanders Joseph P. and Nancy F. Keithley to the Cleveland Museum of Art. Announced in March 2020, the gift of more than 100 works of art is the most significant since the bequest of Leonard C. Hanna Jr. in 1958. The exhibition, which will take place in the Kelvin and Eleanor Smith Foundation Exhibition Hall, will include the Keithley’s gift and promised gift, allowing visitors for the first time to enjoy the richness and breadth of this collection in its entirety. 

The Keithley’s col lect ion focuses on Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, and modern European and American paintings. Among the highlights are five paintings by Pierre Bonnard; four each by Maurice Denis and Édouard Vuillard; two each by Milton Avery, Georges Braque, Gustave Caillebotte, Joan Mitchell, and Félix Vallotton; and individual pictures of outstanding quality by Henri-Edmond Cross, Vilhelm Hammershøi, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Camille Pissarro, and Andrew Wyeth. The Keithleys also collected works on paper; among the drawings are six watercolors of Maine by American modernist John Marin, five drawings by Nabi artist Bonnard, and a seascape in pastel by Eugène Boudin, whose work inspired the Impressionists. Also in the gift is a group of highly realized 17th-century Dutch drawings and watercolors depicting landscapes and flowers. 

Additionally, the Keithleys collected Chinese ceramics. Visitors will discover teaware and storage vessels from the Southern Song dynasty as well as majestic porcelains from the Yuan dynasty and Ming dynasty. The Keithleys also had sustained interest in contemporary Japanese ceramics and collected examples by the finest potters of the 20th century. In the exhibition, Asian ceramics will be shown with Western paintings, drawings, and prints to echo the harmonies created by the Keithleys, who enjoyed juxtaposing works of art in their collection through their Shaker Heights home. 

From two decades of collecting, the works of art selected by the Keithleys will complement and enrich the museum’s collection. Guided by their tastes and the advice of directors, curators, and conservators at the CMA, the Keithleys acquired works that build on strengths in the CMA’s collection. This autumn’s exhibition will be supplemented by 25 works from the museum’s permanent collection, inviting visitors to discover connections between familiar works and objects on view for the first time. For example, the Keithley’s gift includes a landscape depicting Trouville, a town on the coast of Normandy, by Impressionist Caillebotte. This coastal view complements Portrait of a Man by Caillebotte, a bequest from Clevelander Muriel Butkin received in 2009. In addition, the Keithleys have promised to give a still life of chicken, game birds, and hares by the same artist. The three paintings together—portrait, landscape, and stilllife—compose the most fulsome representationof the Impressionist’s work at any museum in the United States. 

Another of my favorite juxtapositions in the exhibition is of two dining scenes by Bonnard. The Dessert (1921), a gift of the Hanna Fund in 1949, shows the artist’s companion Marthe listlessly gazing out a window, accompanied by a young man, Ari Redon, the son of the artist Odilon Redon, and the family pet, a dachshund. In the Keithleys’ Fruit and Fruit Dishes (c. 1930), Bonnard once again painted a dining room table set with a white tablecloth that reflects a kaleidoscope of shimmering colors. This dining scene is absent of human figures, but a cat and dog can be glimpsed at the lower corners of the composition, animating the afternoon meal. The Keithleys’ gift has also vastly enriched the museum’s holdings of works by Abstract Expressionist Mitchell. Alongside her early painting Metro, given to the museum by Clevelander Mrs. John B. Dempsey in 1969, visitors will discover two later, monumental paintings by the artist: Gouise (1966) and Some More (1980). The three works together demonstrate Mitchell’s artistic evolution and the ways in which her painting style became increasingly vibrant, tactile, and bold. We invite visitors to select their favorite works of art from the Keithleys’ generous gift and to discover poetic conversations between recent additions to the museum’s collection and familiar favorites.