Call it woman’s intuition. Or, maybe they just had good taste and a heart full of passion. Either way, you can thank these art-loving, female vanguards for assembling some of the world’s most compelling jewel box collections of masterworks on earth.
Not quite contemporaries, all indulged their passion for modern art as it inched toward the forefront. One, the Swiss daughter of an art dealer who modeled for Picasso, and later represented him herself; another, a Dutch heiress enamored with van Gogh before many recognized his impact; and, the third, a wily Texas painter – by way of the Midwest – who married in multiples and furthered the cause of modern art at a time when many were still looking back.
As visionaries, they not only collected art, but also ensured their treasures had shelter worthy of the works. Thanks to them, today, you can find their stellar personal stockpiles in the intimate museums they created.
The masterpiece-filled galleries of the Rosengart Collection.
In a world where people have little time for others, 86-year-old Angela Rosengart shows up to work every day ready to chat about art. She wants to tell anyone who will listen about the artists she knew growing up, and to share the glories of their work. At the Rosengart Collection, a museum she founded in a retrofitted, midcentury bank building, and donated to the Swiss lakeside city of Lucerne, she walks among 250 masterworks like a hostess at a party. “Each picture here is a portion of my soul,” says Rosengart, who has added art-world cachet as a former model to Picasso.
Angela Rosengart standing before a portrait of Pablo Picasso.
Born into a family of art dealers, who often shirked at selling their favorite pieces, Rosengart created the museum as a way to keep her family’s personal hoard together in one place. Many works bear personal inscriptions from the virtuosos to the Rosengart family, such as birthday greetings. Today, she revels in sharing works by some of the world’s best loved artists – including Klee, Seurat, Chagall, Cézanne, Modigliani, and Matisse. But, Picasso’s presence rules the roost, with 50 of his paintings displayed (including those portraying Madame Rosengart), as well as a compendium of canny photographs documenting his work by famed photographer David Douglas Duncan.
The Kröller-Müller Museum is an hour from Amsterdam.
Before anybody recognized van Gogh’s genius, De Stijl-and-Goethe-loving heiress and Dutch wunderkind, Helene Kröller-Müller had a mission. “Yesterday, we went in search of our singular goal: the paintings of van Gogh,” she wrote from Paris in 1912. Today her immense cache of van Gogh works (87 paintings and almost 200 drawings and etchings) form the core of the museum she created in her home – a house built for displaying them, located an hour from Amsterdam in Hoge Veluwe National Park.
A Jean Dubuffet sculpture on display in the gardens at the Kröller-Müller Museum.
Even Mies van der Rohe submitted plans to be part of the project, an assemblage of architectural talent, which includes the newest 1977 wing by Dutch architect Wim Quist. With a sculpture garden studded with works from Jean Dubuffet to Pierre Huyghe, the “museum house” (as Kröller-Müller called it) proves her uncanny eye for modern art, with pieces by Cézanne, Mondrian, Seurat, Renoir, Picasso, and a panoply of Dutch contemporaries. Plan some time after your visit to pedal through the national parkland that surrounds the museum.
McNay Art Museum
The courtyard of the McNay Art Museum.
They called her the Gertrude Stein of San Antonio. Originally from Ohio, painter and oil heiress Marion Koogler McNay had a discerning eye and fearless, eclectic taste. The philosophies of the artists she liked, from Jawlensky to Dufy to O’Keeffe, were as important as their creations, informing her own work. Her first purchase, Diego Rivera’s Delfina Flores, in 1927, began a trove which grew to include thousands of pieces by names as diverse as Hopper, Monet, Cassatt, Kirchner, and Gauguin.
Inside the Jane and Arthur Stieren Center for Exhibitions, by architect Jean-Paul Viguier, at the McNay Art Museum.
To hold her stash, McNay commissioned a home by San Antonio starchitect Robert Ayres, a Spanish Colonial Revival mansion on 24-acres of Eden-like landscape near downtown. Two decades later, in 1950, this 23-room abode became Texas’s first museum of modern art when McNay bequeathed it, the gardens, her fortune, and her collection, to the foundation. Today, with more than 20,000 masterworks, most on permanent display, and contemporary additions, from African-American artists to rare theater works, the McNay Art Museum draws both art aficionados and those who hanker after a picnic on the statue-rife grounds. “We offer an escape from the outside world, and the side benefit is all of this wonderful art,” says curator of collections, Heather Lammers.