Anyone who has seen the social pages of a major city newspaper has noticed how many benefits can be fit into a single week. Sometimes 3 or more a night!
At one gala event, a dinner at the Frick Collection given, in honor of Clare and Eugene Thaw, we met Joan Taub Ades. We quickly learned that not only is she a lovely person but we became very excited when we heard that she had a particular interest in old master drawings and more specifically, French 18th century drawings. When we mentioned Stiebel, ltd. Joan knew of us but was not personally acquainted.
At these events one often meets people who are so interested in what their table partner is involved in and, in my case, are always taking my card and promising a visit, but this rarely happens. Joan Ades, however, actually came by. Here was a “real” collector with a purpose. Joan was not just looking for the biggest names she could buy but for images that she enjoyed and wanted to live with. While this might seem perfectly logical too few look at collecting that way. Today, collectors get so concerned about the investment value of what they are buying that they forget the rest!
Joan and her husband both are passionate about the arts, and they both enjoy dance and the opera as well, but the opera is her husband’s true love and the drawings “belong” to Joan. Aside from the simple purpose of enjoying her collection she has an additional goal in mind, to acquire drawings that would some day fit well into the Morgan Library’s incredible collection of works on paper. Why? Because, some day, she planned to give her entire collection to the museum.
At the end of last week, we went to the opening of “The Age of Elegance: The Joan Taub Ades Collection” at the Pierpont Morgan Library. It was not the usual mob scene opening that one has at many New York Institutions but it seemed like quite a personal opening with short talks by the director, William Griswold and Joan Ades. We learned that she insisted on only having her friends and not the entire Morgan guest list nor the entire Morgan staff. This was her party.
The exhibition installation is also intimate. Though Joan was offered a larger exhibition space for her collection she picked the Clare Eddy Thaw Gallery which is relatively small but the 38 drawings looked perfect. Even though they had to elimate one of the chosen drawings at the last minute, because of space, Joan was pleased.
The show is intimate and has great character. These are only drawings that Joan likes, she was not talked into any one of them. It is not difficult to discern her taste: though there are a few Italian drawings and a wonderful Adolf Friedrich Menzel (1815-1905) that I personally love, she clearly gravitates to the French school particularly the 18th century. Also, her taste tends to be for very finished drawings where the artist has thoroughly thought out his idea, be it a preparatory work of not.
Joan bought a couple of drawings from our gallery, one by Jean-Baptiste Isabey (1767 -1855). This charming depiction of an early 19th century beauty, a drawing that would flatter any sitter, is also an exceptional example of the use of rich velvety black chalk that Isabey developed.
But the drawing I have to give Joan extra credit for is by Jean-Simon Fournier who was active at the end of the 18th century. It is quite a large drawing 51.2 x 41.4 cms. done with graphite and black chalk. It depicts three young women decorating Edme Bouchardon’s sculpture.
That Joan had the courage to buy a work by a little known artist shows her independence. Once upon a time, it had been thought to be by the well-known artist Maguerite Gérard, sister-in-law and student of the famous artist Jean-Honoré Fragonard. When the Gérard scholar quashed that attribution it was re-attributed, by another to another.
Though the decisions on what to acquire have been Joan’s alone, through her support of the Morgan she has gained the invaluable advice of Cara Dennison, Curator Emeritus. The entire department of drawings and prints contributed to the curating of the current exhibition and the writing of its catalog. These curators are the best of the best.
For many collectors the museum exhibition and catalog is the culmination of their ambition. So I asked Joan if she would stop collecting. Her reply, “Oh, no. You keep on going until you close your eyes”!