AMAM Curator Gets Fellowship to Study in France

This spring the Allen Memorial Art Museum will say a brief goodbye to its curator of Collections and European & American Art, Dr. Andria Derstine. Derstine, who joined the AMAM in 2006, will be traveling to France as part of the Brown Foundation Fellows Program. She will spend the month of March at the Dora Maar House in Ménerbes, France, and will spend April and early May in Paris.The fellowship is geared toward mid-career professionals in the arts and humanities, and the three-month long program was created in order to allow these professionals the time to enrich their understanding of their area of expertise through study. Derstine first found out about the program in Dec. 2007, during a visit to the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, which has acted as the director of the Brown Foundation since 2006. Derstine, who focused her graduate studies on the French Academy in Rome during the 17th and 18th centuries, will be examining a new aspect of French art history, one tied directly to the AMAM’s collection. The Review caught up this week with Dr. Derstine in an email interview to discuss her upcoming studies.

Georgia Horn, Arts Editor

How will the work you’ve done at the Allen inform your work in France?

I am undertaking two separate projects while I am away, both of which are directly related to the AMAM’s outstanding collection and both of which will inform future exhibitions and publications. During my time at the Dora Maar House in March, I will be working on a project relating to 24 works, both paintings and drawings (including works by Dubuffet, Miró, Chagall, Matisse, Modigliani and Picasso, among many others), donated to the AMAM in the 1950s and 1960s by Joseph and Enid Bissett.

Enid Bissett was a co-inventor of the Maidenform bra, and became an art collector. It is almost entirely through the generosity of the Bissetts that the School of Paris and European art of the early and mid 20th century has a prominent place in the AMAM. Upon my arrival at the AMAM in 2006, when I began to research the collection, I discovered letters from Dubuffet to the Bissetts, and since that time have been working towards an exhibition of the collection along with this material.

During a residency at the Dora Maar House as a Brown Foundation Fellow, I will work on a catalog that will present significant new research on Dubuffet’s relationship with the Bissetts, shedding new light on his early career and the reception of his works in America.

Since 2007 I have conducted research on the works in question at the Morgan Library and Museum, the Fondation Dubuffet, the Bibliothèque Kandinsky, the documentation at the Musée Picasso, the Comité Chagall, the Fondation Rouault, Périgny-sur-Yerres (where the Fondation Dubuffet has a second seat), the Fondation Maeght, the Matisse and Chagall museums in Nice, the Amis d’Alfred Sisley in Moret-sur-Loing and the archives at the Collection de l’Art Brut in Lausanne.

In addition to museum, foundation and archival resources, I have conducted interviews with relatives and acquaintances of the Bissetts. I will use my time at the Dora Maar House primarily to synthesize the material I have collected over these past five years and to begin to write the catalog (which will include full catalog entries on all 24 works and an introductory essay situating the Bissetts, the art dealers with whom they worked and Dubuffet in the New York art world in the 1940s and 1950s), while refining the list of requested loan material for the proposed exhibition.

So what will happen in Paris?

During my time in Paris in April and early May, I will continue to work on the Bissett/School of Paris project, but will also undertake research on a separate project which is also related to the AMAM collection and exhibition and a publication. In fall 2010, I co-wrote a grant request to the Samuel H. Kress Foundation for funds to conserve a painting of Cleopatra in the AMAM collection, which had been donated in 1961 to the museum by the Kress Foundation.

The painting is the AMAM’s closest link to Leonardo da Vinci, as the artist, Giampietrino, likely worked in his studio in the late 15th and early 16th century, and the pose of Cleopatra in our work is based on the pose of Leda in a lost Leonardo painting.

The grant was successful and the painting is currently undergoing conservation treatment at the Intermuseum Conservation Association in Cleveland. It will be exhibited next academic year as part of the AMAM’s “Religion, Ritual and Performance” series of exhibitions in 2012–13, an initiative that will include major loans of Renaissance art from the Yale University Art Gallery, funded by the Mellon Foundation. I am researching our painting with a view to publishing an article about its importance, past history and place within the artist’s career. With the conservator, Andrea Chevalier, I will also be writing about the painting’s conservation treatment. The Louvre owns a painting very similar to ours by Giampietrino, which also recently underwent conservation treatment and has numerous materials that are related to this project.