The distinguished-looking gent seen here with his dog, Coco, was Mr. Chester Dale (1883-1962), a self-made American tycoon who specialized in railroad mortgage futures. After he had acquired his first +/- 100 million dollars, and successfully wooed his artist-art critic wife, Maud (1876-1953), Dale turned his eye towards collecting art. Armed with loads of ready cash, he initially bought works that captured his interest. Maud, however, soon took his magpie tendencies in hand, saying, "Chesterdale, let us have something definite. I would suggest that you collect French art for the last 150 years with ancestors."
With a clear plan, the Dales embarked on a collecting mission of epic proportions. Maud had the natural eye and the initial connections to artists and dealers. Chester began as the money man but, with the same single mindedness he'd applied to studying Wall Street, taught himself the equivalent of at least two PhD's worth of artistic influences, provenances and a comprehensive history of auction lots, and lent every bit of his considerable business acumen towards getting what he wanted. Dealers on both sides of the Atlantic learned to thwart "Chesterdale" at their peril. Together, the Dales built a collection of over 800 key pieces that totally obscured the walls of their Manhattan townhouse.
Lest it sound as if Chester Dale bought art as some men buy yachts or keep strings of polo ponies or mistresses for ego's sake, let me assure you: he bought nothing that he did not ache to see on a daily basis. He loved these works of art--perhaps in lieu of the children he and Maud didn't have. Furthermore, he was protective of and friends with any number of artists. Dealers? Not so much. Museum directors? He took YEARS off of their lives with his complete inability to stop using the words "loan" and "gift" interchangeably.
You see, then, that it was quite a coup for the then-young National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. to receive the Chester Dale Collection as a bequest after Dale's death in 1962. Have you ever wondered how the NGA came to have such a world-class collection of late-19th and early 20th-century French masterpieces? Wonder no longer.
All of which leads me to this: the NGA has hung the nucleus of the Chester Dale Collection together in a special exhibition while some of their galleries are undergoing renovations. Over 80 key works are included and on view between now and July of 2011. After July of 2011, they'll resume their places in other galleries within the museum--but they will never, ever travel elsewhere under a stipulation in Dale's will. If you would like to personally see Chester and Maud's collection approximately as it looked in their home, during their lives, this is your opportunity.
If you physically can't get to the National Gallery, though, it has generously made the exhibition available online. We, the People, are indebted to both the Dales and our NGA. Please, take your time viewing this lengthy image gallery and enjoy.
Related Reading and Viewing:
- The Dale Collection - video podcast from the NGA (16:00 mins.); very highly recommended
- National Gallery of Art Visitor's Guide
Salvador Dalí (Spanish, 1904-1989)
Chester Dale, 1958
Oil on canvas
34 15/16 x 23 3/16 in. (88.8 x 58.9 cm)
Chester Dale Collection
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.