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Georges de La Tour
Saint Sebastian Tended 
by Irene, ca. 1630
All photos:
Kimbell Art Museum,
Fort Worth, Tx.

X-radiograph of 
Saint Sebastian....

X-radiograph of 
Saint Sebastian... 

Autoradiograph of 
Saint Sebastian.... 
Photo Michael Bodycomb.

Autoradiograph of 
Saint Sebastian.... 
Detail of Irene. 

New entrance of 
the Norton Museum of Art, 
West Palm Beach, 
Florida. Photo Lee 

Paul Cezanne
Portrait of Alfred Hauge
c. 1899
Norton Museum of Art. 

Pierre Bonnard
La Plage de St. Tropez 
1932, Norton Museum of Art

JP Morgan with 
"Degas," Sept. 8, 1996 

"Degas" without 
JP Morgan, Sept. 15, 1996

visual reality
by Lee Rosenbaum
Is Ted Pillsbury's eye as sharp as it's 
cracked up to be? A controversial 
connoisseur with a flair for snaring 
rediscovered works, the director of the 
Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, is about 
to have one of his latest conquests put 
to the test. Saint Sebastian Tended 
by Irene, bought by the Kimbell in 1993 
at Sotheby's New York for a mere $60,250 
as "Circle of Georges de La Tour," was 
later audaciously reattributed by the 
museum to the master himself. It now finds 
itself hobnobbing with 26 autograph works 
in "Georges de La Tour and His World" at 
the National Gallery of Art, Washington, 
to Jan. 5 (thence to the Kimbell, Feb. 2 
to May 11, 1997). The discerning eyes of 
artistic arbiters will soon decide whether 
it belongs with the "in crowd" or the 
follower wannabes.

Museum buffs are familiar with the many 
romantic sagas of the Texas museum's 
lassoing long-lost works. In the last 
decade the well-heeled institution has 
roped in rediscovered examples by 
Caravaggio, Parmigianino, Boilly and 
Elsheimer as well as a 15th-century 
portrait still cautiously labeled as 
"Flemish or Franco-Flemish" but described 
by the Kimbell as possessing "a robustness 
and naturalism" that "have led some art 
historians to associate it with the work of 
Hans Memling." 

The Kimbell's case for its La Tour is based 
on the painting's numerous pentimenti, 
similarities to other works by the artist 
in treatment of color and light, and 
"spontaneous execution of high artistic 
quality" in its best-preserved passages. 
But Philip Conisbee, the National Gallery's 
curator of French paintings and organizer 
of the La Tour show, remains unconvinced. 
He maintains that the Ft. Worth painting 
lacks "quality of execution and drawing," 
and criticizes some passages---Irene's 
eyelids and veil, for example---as "strange 
in form." Having conservatively catalogued 
it as "attributed to Georges de La Tour" 
(meaning that some say it's by the artist 
but it's probably not), he declared shortly 
before the show's Oct. 6 opening that he 
would reserve final judgment until after
examining the painting more closely "next 
to the other nocturnal scenes with similar 
lighting and color....I have always been 
skeptical about that picture and I still 
remain skeptical." 

Taking the Kimbell's side, the noted 
British art historian Christopher Wright 
opined last June in a five-page Apollo 
magazine article that the museum's decision 
to purchase the picture, one of 12 existing 
versions of the composition, was not only 
"a brave one," given the negative scholarly 
consensus, but has also proven astute, 
because Wright believes that the Fort Worth 
painting can now be confidently assigned to 
La Tour. Citing new evidence from recent 
autoradiographic examination, he described 
stylistic and technical similarities 
between St. Sebastian and fully accepted La 

Complicating assessment is one defect that 
everyone agrees on: The painting is a 
wreck. Overzealous conservation in the mid-
1950s, when it was owned by the Nelson-
Atkins Museum, Kansas City, caused 
"irreversible damage to the surface 
texture," reports Claire Barry, conservator 
at the Kimbell, in the National Gallery's 
catalogue. The artificially flattened, 
shiny surface gave the painting "all the 
marks of an old copy," Wright observed.

If nothing else, St. Sebastian's story is 
another cautionary tale against injudicious 
museum deaccessions. Acquired by the 
Nelson-Atkins as an authentic La Tour, it 
was demoted to "circle of" due to the 
negative assessment of some scholars. In 
hindsight, the Kansas City museum's 
decision to ship the painting off to 
auction looks like a bad deal, both 
financially and art historically: Even if 
not an autograph work, the painting is of 
high scholarly interest and should have 
been kept in the collection for study. All 
of which proves, once again, that museums 
should shield their "permanent collections" 
from the fickle dictates of fashion. 

Journalists (including me) missed it the 
first time, but the Frick Collection, New 
York, has quietly loosened its restrictions 
against lending works to exhibitions at 
other institutions. It recently dispatched 
an envoy to the La Tour conclave--- 
The Education of the Virgin, catalogued by the 
National Gallery (like St. Sebastian) as 
"attributed to" the artist. But the Frick's 
no-loans policy was first dropped two years 
ago, when it entrusted the nearby 
Metropolitan Museum with a Jan van Eyck for 
its show of Petrus Christus, van Eyck's 
pupil. The only other Frick loan so far: a 
Pisanello drawing, now on view at the 
Castel Vecchio, Verona, Italy.

Although the Frick is legally prohibited 
from lending works that it received from 
its founder, Henry Clay Frick, these 
strictures do not govern subsequent 
acquisitions, according to curator Edgar 
Munhall. "As our own exhibition program 
became more active and we were borrowing 
more from other museums, it seemed 
unfriendly" for the Frick to turn down 
every loan request, he noted. He cautioned, 
though, that only the most serious, 
scholarly exhibitions can have their pick 
at the Frick.

Do we really want to place our cultural 
treasures smack in the path of natural 
disaster, even with all the precautions 
modern engineering can provide? The Getty 
is doing it big time as California braces for the Big One, so why not the more modest Norton Museum (formerly Norton Gallery), West Palm Beach, Fla.? Hurricane Andrew's lessons are being applied to the Norton's nearly complete $19-million construction project, renovating the institution's 55-year-old structure and adding a new wing. We're glad to hear the museum's new windows can withstand gale- launched telephone poles, but how much comfort is there in a new drain system that will draw water away from the building once the roof blows off? Can't we just keep the roof on?

Preparing for the Jan. 20 opening of the 
expanded facility, Norton director 
Christina Orr-Cahall proudly showed off her 
new digs recently, but scowled when asked 
to discuss the culture wars that exiled her 
from Washington, D.C. to the Sunshine 
State. Best known for her controversial 
decision canceling the Mapplethorpe 
exhibition in 1989 when she was director of 
the Corcoran Gallery, she's lately been 
making less difficult choices on behalf of 
the Norton's large senior-citizen 
constituency: carpeted floors, easily 
accessible parking, a level-floored (rather 
than raked) auditorium, and a large 
restroom designated specifically to 
accommodate a wheelchair-bound visitor 
along with his or her assisting companion 
of either sex.

The expanded facility, designed by Chad 
Floyd of the Essex, Conn.-based Centerbrook 
Architects, will more than double the 
museum's size to 77,500 square feet and, 
for the first time, allow highlights of the 
4,800-work collection to be placed on 
permanent display. But on a hot, humid 
September afternoon, even the renovated old 
building (reopened in November 1995) seemed 
too big for its audience: It was almost 
devoid of humans, save for a few guards and 
Duane Hanson's lifelike Young Worker, 
slouched dejectedly against a wall. 
Attendance does pick up, though, during the 
winter social season, when some 2,000 to 
3,000 snowbirds flock each day to view 
special exhibitions and the museum's 
collection of European old masters, French 
Impressionists and post-Impressionists, 
American art from 1900 to the present, 
modern European and American sculpture, and 
Chinese bronzes, jades, ceramics and 

When they drew up the list of luminaries 
for the international honorary committee of 
Christie's upcoming Mauerbach Sale 
 benefitting Holocaust victims, how did 
they manage to omit Andrew Decker? (He was 
the crusading journalist whose series of 
investigative reports in ARTnews on 
Austria's hidden hoard of Nazi-seized art 
prompted the sale.)

Could anyone find the Art Institute of 
Chicago in J.P. Morgan's 
newspaper ad using the museum's Degas show as 
pretext to hype the business activities of 
the corporate sponsor? (The museum was 
mentioned twice in small print, Degas four 
times, Morgan, eleven.)
Could anyone find J.P. Morgan's name in the 
newspaper ad for the same show subsequently 
run by the museum? (It was unmentioned---
"an oversight," according to Christine 
O'Neill, Chicago's vice president of 
development, who acknowledged that the 
museum then heard from its displeased 

Did Sue Runyard's previous British 
government position in the department that 
grants art export licenses (but prefers to 
withhold them from the wealthy, acquisitive 
Getty Museum) influence her selection as 
the Getty's new head of public information 
and visitor services?

(Correct answers to be published in Andrew 
Decker's ARTnewsletter report on the 
Mauerbach Sale. Winners get a trip to see 
"The Art of Disney Architecture" at the 
U.S. Pavilion of the Venice Architecture 
Biennale, to Nov. 17. Prize also includes 
mouse ears and the show's companion book 
from Abrams.)

Lee Rosenbaum writes frequently for the 
Wall Street Journal "Leisure & Arts" page 
and Art in America magazine. She is the 
author of The Complete Guide to Collecting 
Art (Knopf).