Many in the Ford family were major donors to the museum but the ones who did the most were Edsel and Eleanor Ford. In 1932 Edsel Ford, son of Ford founder Henry Ford, and William Valetiner, the renowned museum director commissioned Mexican artist, Diego Rivera (1886-1957) to paint murals (27 fresco panels in all) for the garden court, just a gallery away from the main entrance to the museum. The only requirement was that the murals relate to Detroit and the development of industry. When they were completed there was much controversy. Rivera was a classic Marxist and he painted workers of all races toiling side by side.
Both Ford and Valentiner defended the artist’s work without equivocation. During the McCarthy era of the 1950’s a sign was placed in the garden court lambasting the artist’s politics but defending his artistic merit and what he had done for Detroit. Note the portraits at one end of a panel with the donor behind the Director who holds the written dedication of the murals.
I arrived at the DIA on a Saturday which was fortuitous because I could get to see their new exhibition, “Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus” on the member’s day before the show was open to the general public. Though it was crowded I could see around the people who were studying their audio guide handsets more than studying the pictures! There were a few wonderful paintings by the master both from the DIA collection and lent, but it was mostly a print and drawing exhibition. It afforded an opportunity to see Rembrandt as he developed his view of Jesus. As the artist lived in the Jewish quarter of Amsterdam he had the opportunity to draw a lot of the locals in order to come up with his vision.
The DIA has superb collections and though the works acquired from Rosenberg & Stiebel are not as numerous as in Cleveland and Toledo, the quality remains tops. In paintings there are names such as Fra Angelico, Cranach, Van Dyck, Rembrandt, Tiepolo and my favorite, the huge picture by Rubens of St. Yves.
Henry Ford II and his relatives of that generation bought a great deal from our firm, some of which was donated to the Museum. One of the rarest pieces and my favorite in the decorative arts section is a decorated ostrich egg on an ormolu mount of about 1780.
The only weekday I was in Detroit was a Monday on which the museum is officially closed but I still had the opportunity to meet with a number of curators. I spent the most time with Alan Darr, who I have known for well over 30 years. His current designation as Senior Curator of the European Paintings, Sculpture and Decorative Arts encapsulates all our fields! He took me to lunch and then gave me a special treat with a private tour of the collections.
You will not often find me giving recommendations of places to stay but The Inn at Ferry Street, which was recommended to me by Alan, is out of the ordinary. It is on a lovely tree-lined street in an area designated as a historic district. Four restored Victorian homes and two carriage houses provide forty rooms, all different. Breakfast was served in the main house buffet style and it was amazingly complete for an inn. The staff were all most pleasant and helpful also supplying a shuttle service within a five mile radius. It was an unexpected bonus to visiting the DIA and it is only two blocks away.