CultureGrrl Whacks Boston’s MFA For Caille-Butt Acquisition

To all appearances, the Boston Museum of Fine Art’s eight-for-one swap to acquire Gustave Caillebotte’s “Man at His Bath” has gone over like the metric system.

Exhibit A: Boston Globe columnist Scot Lehigh.

Now wait a minute, Mr. Malcolm Rogers, prestigious Ann and Graham Gund Director of the Museum of Fine Arts. You are going to sell eight paintings from the MFA collection – eight paintings worth up to $24 million – to raise money to buy a view of a gentleman’s just-bathed backside?

Call me a philistine, but somehow this just doesn’t strike me as an astute trade. Why not? Well, let me count the ways.

This painting, “Man at His Bath,” is not an eye-catching celebration of the human form, a la Michelangelo’s “David.” Rather, it’s an everyday view of… well, mostly of an everyday butt. Which is basically what George Shackelford, chairman of the museum’s Art of Europe Department, said in Monday’s Globe.

“This guy is no Arcadian bather,” he noted. “It’s perfectly mundane – and expressly so.” One would think that self-evidently accurate appraisal would lead to this equally obvious notion: It’s probably not worth selling scenes by Monet, Gauguin, Sisley, Pissarro, and Renoir to acquire that perfectly mundane scene.

Said mundane scene:

Exhibit Umpteen: ArtsJournal’s CultureGrrl.

 I strongly believe that museum-quality works that are in the public domain should stay in the public domain. If they belong in the museum, they should stay there. As I’ve stated time and again, they are held in public trust and should not be used as trading chips.

Here are the images of the soon-to-be-auctioned works, supplied (at my request) by the museum. See for yourself what Boston will cast off to bring home the rosy derrière. (The online version of the Globe article did not publish these images.)

Claude Monet, “The Fort of Antibes,” 1888
Presale estimate: $5-7 million

Paul Gauguin, “Forest Interior,” 1884
Presale estimate: $1.2-1.8 million

Camille Pissarro, “View from the Artist’s Window, Eragny,” 1885
Presale estimate: $1.8-2.5 million

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, “Bust Portrait of a Young Woman,” c. 1890
Presale estimate: $1.8-2.5 million

Alfred Sisley, “Overcast Day at Saint-Mammès,” c. 1880
Presale estimate: $1.5-2 million

Alfred Sisley, “Saint-Mammès: Morning (Le Matin),” 1881
Presale estimate: $2-3 million

Vasily Vereshchagin, “Pearl Mosque, Delhi,” late 1880s
Presale estimate: $3-5 million

Maxime Camille Louis Maufra, “Gust of Wind,” 1899
Presale estimate: $300,000-500,000

Splendid readers, you be the judge: Is this a good deal or not?

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11 Responses to CultureGrrl Whacks Boston’s MFA For Caille-Butt Acquisition

  1. arafat kazi says:

    Mark my words, this is the beginning of an annus horribilis.

    (Wanted to keep it classy there.)

  2. Al says:

    Most people, myself included, just don’t understand art. We only know what we like, to toss out an old line. We probably never heard of Caillebotte or know if this painting is as desirable as the MFA is telling us it is. Who we have heard of, are Renoir and Monet. We know that they painted pictures that have great value and reputation in the art world but, I couldn’t possibly compare the value of those the MFA wants to trade up with to this Caillebotte. The other thing is the puritan, or conservative thing going on. The Globe put the Caillebotte front and center in it’s paper, and we are presented with a choice between a naked man getting out of the bath, and a series of landscapes, pictures most people can get, even if they can’t artistically judge, as their choice, and you can be sure they will pick the landscapes as their choice to keep. The naked man conjures up thoughts of Robert Mappelthorpe (sp?), and other art works conservatives have railed against the NEA and the art world about. If you don’t like it, don’t look at it. The museum is privately operated. They can do what they want.

  3. The butt masterpiece sure seems superior to any of the other masterpieces — taken individually. Butt it is hard to understand how it is necessarily superior to all the other eight taken as a whole.

    Maybe dimensions matter: isn’t the butt a rather large one on the wall, while the others are of more modest proportions?

    If I may butt in to say one more thing: isn’t everyone getting all worked up because this is a man’s butt? If it were a fully naked woman, wouldn’t everyone be admiring the painting’s “attributes”? Think Modigliani, where the naked female model seems a more ordinary person than a Venus.

  4. Laurence Glavin says:

    Are those eight paintings that are being deaccessioned on display right now at the MFA? If so, I’ve got to get over there while there’s still time! By the way, the attitudes expressed above also apply to music. People can’t get enough of the string quartets of Beethoven (minus the “Grosse Fuge”…German spelling), Schubert, Mendelssohn and Brahms, while recoiling from the “ugly sounding” string quartets of Bela Bartok. I love the fomer as much as anybody, but the Bartok pieces as well.

  5. Curmudgeon says:

    Perhaps this proposed purchase is a commentary by Director Rogers about the museum-going citizenry of Boston.

    Truly fine art invites the viewer to enter the scene and explore. The invitation many would get from this offering is to move on to the next painting.

    I agree with Michael Pahre, the trade of eight for the one is not a good one.

  6. Louise says:

    Isn’t this all rather obvious? The gay community is heralding the arrival of this painting by the artist they call the “gay Impressionist.”

    Rogers is not selling off important works of art to improve or enhance the collection. He’s merely engaging in PT Barnum ticket sales games.

    • Campaign Outsider says:

      No question, Louise – Malcolm’s a smooth operator.

    • Andy says:

      First of all, sorry to rain on the rainbow crowd, but Gustave was not gay. He left some of his wealth including a house to his girlfriend, not his “boyfriend”, which if he were gay could only have been Renoir, his best friend. But, he was not.

      Secondly, Gustave’s cousin, Paul de Launay, painted frontal male nudes as well as female nudes, and he had three wives over the course of his life, one of which I am a descendant of, so don’t buy into the rainbow agenda, because…well, that’s all it is. I usually just lurk, but had to comment on this one, even though Louise may have well said it in jest.

      I’ll be in Quebec City on the 6th for the opening of the Caillebotte Expo:

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