Jean-Honoré Fragonard. Portrait of a Singer. c. 1769. Private collection.
Jean-Honoré Fragonard. Portrait of a Singer. c. 1769. Private collection.
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Two Fragonard masterpieces among new additions to European collection galleries

BALTIMORE, MD (December 20, 2023)—The Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) today announced some important changes and additions to several of its collection galleries. The BMA’s contemporary wing has been updated with a new selection of works by contemporary artists with ties to Baltimore and Washington, DC, continuing the museum’s commitment to featuring the work of local and regional artists as an essential part of its mission. The European art galleries have also been newly enlivened with extraordinary historic French and Dutch paintings on loan from acclaimed private collections, including two masterpieces by Jean-Honoré Fragonard. These changes reflect the BMA’s vision to continuously enhance and reimagine presentations of its collection to capture a depth of artistic expression and excellence, across time and into the present moment.

Since fall 2021, the BMA has presented rotations of the contemporary collection under the umbrella title How Do We Know the World?, with approximately half of the works changing every six months. The latest iteration of the front room gallery continues to highlight the dynamism and experimentation of Baltimore and Washington, DC-area artists with paintings, photographs, prints, video, and mixed-media works by Maren Hassinger, Emmanuel Massillon, linn meyers, Tom Miller, Devin N. Morris, Zéh Palito, Jo Smail, and SHAN Wallace. The BMA’s Black Box Gallery screens A Black Girl’s Country (2019) by Baltimore-based director and spoken word artist NIA JUNE with cinematographer Kirby Griffin, and creative director and musician APoetNamedNate. This four-minute, 24-second video uses poetry, music, and dance to celebrate the multifaceted experiences of 50 Black women and girls across generations in Baltimore. Also on view in adjacent galleries are works by Grace Hartigan, Valerie Maynard, and artists affiliated with the legacy of The Washington Color School: Timothy Corkery, Sam Gilliam, Alma W. Thomas and Anne Truitt.

The central gallery of the BMA’s European art collection has been transformed by the loan of two magnificent works by Jean-Honoré Fragonard (French, 1732-1806). Portrait of a Singer and The Actor (both c. 1769) show the artist at the height of his creative powers with two portraits from his series of fantasy figure paintings (14 of which are known). Fragonard drew on his circle of friends and associates for models and lavishly—and somewhat daringly—depicted them in an old-fashioned Spanish style of costume captured with painterly bravura. The paintings belong to descendants of the celebrated Rothschild banking family and were among those seized in 1938 following the Anschluss, or annexation of Austria to Nazi Germany. The last time they were publicly shown together was in 2017 at the National Gallery in Washington, DC.

An adjacent gallery features three paintings on loan from The Leiden Collection in New York that focuses on 17th-century Dutch women as subjects, patrons, and artists. Works by Dutch Golden Age artists Frans van Mieris the Elder (Dutch, 1635–1681) and Willem van Mieris (Dutch, 1662–1747) acknowledge women’s literacy and growing interest in botanical study and artistic practice. The scene of a boy offering grapes to a woman is an extremely rare surviving work by Maria Schalcken (Dutch, 1645/50-1700) that was once attributed to her brother, Godefriedus Schalcken. Founded by Thomas S. Kaplan and Daphne Recanati Kaplan, The Leiden Collection is among the largest and most important private collections of 17th-century Dutch art in private hands, and this loan fills a significant gap in the BMA’s collection.

Another gallery shows how artists working across Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries were inspired by Greek and Roman antique sculpture to depict ancient Mediterranean mythology, antiquity, and the human body. Many European artists, especially those working in the Netherlands, Germany, and France, drew from the ancient Roman poet Ovid’s Metamorphoses (completed 8 CE), the most widely translated, illustrated, and commented upon text from antiquity. Rarely shown paintings and prints from the BMA’s collection include works by Cornelis Cornelisz. van Haarlem (Dutch, 1562-1638) Cornelis van Poelenburch (Dutch, 1594/95-1667), Johann Rottenhammer (German, 1564-1625), Nicolas Poussin (French, 1594–1665), Jean François Millet (Flemish, 1642–1679, and Hendrick Goltzius (Dutch, 1558–1617).

“We are thrilled to unveil these new additions to our galleries, which reflect our commitment to partnering with a broad network of artists, collectors, creatives, and leaders to bring exceptional works of art into our galleries and our collection. Collaboration is a core tenet of my vision for the BMA and the loans and acquisitions that are now on view reflect what can be achieved in telling a robust art history when building bridges is made central to our work,” said Asma Naeem, the BMA’s Dorothy Wagner Wallis Director. “This, of course, includes our ongoing work to connect with, present, and support our local and regional artist community, which is so rich in artistic innovation. How Do We Know the World? offers continuous opportunities to increase their presence in our galleries.”

How Do We Know the World? is co-curated by Jessica Bell Brown, BMA Curator and Department Head of Contemporary Art, and Leila Grothe, BMA Associate Curator of Contemporary Art with support from Oscar Flores-Montero, BMA Curatorial Assistant.

The European art collection is curated by Dr. Lara Yeager-Crasselt, BMA Curator and Department Head of European Painting and Sculpture.

How Do We Know the World? is supported by Transamerica, Michael Sherman and Carrie Tivador, the Suzanne F. Cohen Exhibition Fund, and The Dorman/Mazaroff Contemporary Endowment Fund.

About the Baltimore Museum of Art

Founded in 1914, the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) inspires people of all ages and backgrounds through exhibitions, programs, and collections that tell an expansive story of art—challenging long-held narratives and embracing new voices. Our outstanding collection of more than 97,000 objects spans many eras and cultures and includes the world’s largest public holding of works by Henri Matisse; one of the nation’s finest collections of prints, drawings, and photographs; and a rapidly growing number of works by contemporary artists of diverse backgrounds. The museum is also distinguished by a neoclassical building designed by American architect John Russell Pope and two beautifully landscaped gardens featuring an array of modern and contemporary sculpture. The BMA is located three miles north of the Inner Harbor, adjacent to the main campus of Johns Hopkins University, and has a community branch at Lexington Market. General admission is free so that everyone can enjoy the power of art.

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