Here’s the main reason to visit the impressive artworks in “A Passion for Collecting: Selections From the Richard M. Scaife Bequest” before the exhibition closes Sunday at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art:
“Visitors are not going to see this collection like this again,” said chief curator Barbara Jones. “If you miss it, you won’t see it again in its current permutation.”
After Mr. Scaife died in July 2014, the museum learned that he had bequeathed half of his art collection to The Westmoreland and the other half to the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, Pa. The artworks were divided in a round-robin format with the museums alternating choices.
This exhibition comprises all but one of the 71 works that were acquired by The Westmoreland in the first round. It is the inaugural exhibition in the museum’s new cantilevered gallery, which has a wall of windows that frame a dramatic view of downtown Greensburg.
The exception is a stained-glass window, “Moon Over Clouds,” by John La Farge that is installed in the permanent collection near the museum’s Thomas Lynch window by Tiffany Studios.
Two other La Farge works are in the exhibition. “Paradise Brooke Near the Bridge on Third Beach Road” is “the most beautiful little tiny tiny landscape,” Ms. Jones said. The oil on canvas is 1⅞ inches high by 2¾ inches wide. The watercolor “Waterlilies,” she said, “is more typical of what you think of when you think of La Farge. It could have been a preparatory sketch for a window.”
The juxtaposition of works by the two rival glass artists invites comparison of their styles and methods. The La Farge paintings “show a different side of the artist,” Ms. Jones said. “They tell people something about the artist that they didn’t know.”
Five paintings by the early 20th-century self-taught Pittsburgh artist John Kane were bequeathed directly to the museum by Mr. Scaife, so they didn’t go through the round-robin process. They also hang in the permanent collection galleries.
While many of the most important works in this exhibition will be blended into the collection galleries, space will limit how many will be out at one time. And then “they will be shown in relation to our collection as opposed to Dick’s collection,” Ms. Jones said.
The newly expanded museum displays more of the overall collection, including works that haven’t been exhibited in decades. Now she’s thinking about how to re-order the galleries to incorporate some of the new gifts. “But that means I have to take out other things I also think are important.”
In this presentation, paintings by great names of American art (Inness, Cropsey, Bierstadt, William Merritt Chase) hang alongside lesser-known artists. Visionary Charles Ephraim Burchfield’s watercolor “The Gas Station” shares space with 17 drawings of sailing ships by James Edward Butters-worth. All were done from an 1851 competition that became known as the America’s Cup. The unifier is Mr. Scaife, a newspaper publisher and philanthropist.
“We see his taste, his style of collecting, his own personal likes and loves in styles and subjects,” Ms. Jones said. “He liked a still life occasionally, boats, pretty women, landscapes, Impressionism. He didn’t like depressing things. He didn’t like dull gray pictures. He liked color. He liked vibrant things.
“He bought for enjoyment, not investment.”
The Buttersworth drawings are an example of the kind of rare artworks that a museum might not have sought out but are a bonus when they come as a gift. “We were fortunate to get all of them because they came as one lot,” Ms. Jones said.
Other works fill gaps in the collection that there had not been money or time to fill, such as marine paintings. Those include three expansive ocean views, a watercolor and two oils, by Alfred Thompson Bricher, and a small oil by Hugo August Bernhard Breul. The latter was “somebody we didn’t even know about,” Ms. Jones said, and the subject, “Narragansett Beach,” is iconic in American art. William Trost Richards’ “Lighthouse at Watch Hill, Rhode Island,” is of a subject that still stands, she said.
Visitors might take special note of the works on paper — drawings, watercolor, prints and the like — which will “have to rest for a while” before they’re exhibited again because of their sensitivity to light, Ms. Jones said.
They are another category of art that is welcome as gifts. “We love these works on paper, but we have to be careful when, working with a limited budget, we consider purchasing them. We can’t show them all the time, and a work on paper is an investment that sits in a drawer most of its life.”