The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens has acquired a group of artworks spanning nearly 300 years that significantly broaden the range of American art in its collection. The acquisitions comprise a New England landscape painting by Edward Mitchell Bannister, an important Black artist of the 19th century; a series of six paintings depicting life in the colonial Caribbean by Agostino Brunias; an interpretation of the figurative silhouette by contemporary artist Letitia Huckaby; a mid-19th-century still-life by Lilly Martin Spencer; a monumental mural made in 1935 by Tyrus Wong, a key figure in the history of Asian American art; and an early work in silver by Tiffany & Co. The acquisitions were funded by The Huntington’s Art Collectors’ Council.
“These exciting new acquisitions represent a wide range of media, from oil painting on canvas to mixed-metal silverwork, photographic portraits on textiles, and oil and charcoal on plywood,” said Christina Nielsen, the Hannah and Russel Kully Director of the Art Museum at The Huntington. “They also represent a diversity of artists and continue to broaden the range and depth of our American art collection. Two artists are women, two are African American, and one is Asian American. The artists’ places of birth—England, Canada, China, and Italy—also tell a compelling story of émigré artists who worked in the United States and, in one case, the colonial British West Indies. We are tremendously grateful to be adding these works to our collection.”
Some of the new acquisitions will go on display in the American art galleries in the coming months, and others will be featured in upcoming special exhibitions at The Huntington.
Among the collection some highlights include Edward Mitchell Bannister’s “Untitled”, Lilly Martin Spencer’s “Strawberries”, and “Covered pitcher” by Tiffany & Co..
Untitled (Walking Through a Field) is a rare New England landscape by the trailblazing African American painter Edward Mitchell Bannister. The scene symbolically links past, present, and future as a solitary figure traverses a wheat field toward a distant lake. Like many of Bannister’s paintings of the last quarter of the 19th century, its subject matter does not present a clear reading.
“Adding Bannister’s Untitled is an important milestone for the collection,” said Dennis Carr, Virginia Steele Scott Chief Curator of American Art at The Huntington. “It is a major, previously unpublished work made at the height of his career. We are delighted that it will join other works by Black artists in the collection, including a painting by Robert S. Duncanson from 1853, representing prominent Black American landscape painters of the 19th century.”
A basket full of plump, ripe strawberries glistens in the sun. Tiny droplets of water, likely remnants of the morning’s dew, sparkle along the strawberries’ red flesh and bright green leaves. Lilly Martin Spencer’s 1859 still-life painting Strawberries is a tour-de-force of naturalistic observation that engages multiple senses simultaneously—sight, smell, touch, and taste—as it asks its viewers to imagine the scents and flavors the image evokes.
Spencer’s painting enhances The Huntington’s display of American still-life paintings, represented by the work of Raphaelle Peale and her contemporaries Severin Roesen and John Frederick Peto, as well as Pre-Raphaelite pieces in the British art collection.
“Lilly Martin Spencer’s newly rediscovered painting, Strawberries, draws connections across Huntington collecting areas, providing a clear link between British and American art of the period, and even to our botanical gardens.” Carr said.
A pair of colorful carp swim amidst aquatic plants while a watchful dragonfly alights on a blade of grass. A newt perched on a lily pad eyes a fly. These and other incidents of pond life are captured in the newly acquired lidded silver pitcher, one of Tiffany and Co.’s most celebrated early mixed-metalwork experiments in a Japonesque style. Inspired by the design aesthetic and technical mastery of Japanese metalwork and other decorative arts, Tiffany’s designers used applied mixed metals—gold and copper on silver—to create a lively, narrative scene that wraps around the vessel. The hand-hammered surface breaks up the reflection of the bright, polished silver as does water in a pond, referring to the pitcher’s purpose to hold liquid.
“This covered pitcher is a key addition to The Huntington’s collection of works by the Tiffany firm,” Carr said. “It is among the earliest examples of Tiffany material in the collection and the most representative of the Japanese design aesthetic that took the world by storm following the reopening of Japan to the West in the 1850s. It evokes elements of The Huntington’s Japanese and Chinese gardens, especially the lily and koi ponds, which were among the first garden spaces created by Henry Huntington. The pitcher will be right at home in the American galleries—especially our galleries devoted to American silver and the Aesthetic Movement of the late 19th century.”
About The HuntingtonThe Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens is a cultural and educational institution of global significance. Building on Henry E. and Arabella Huntington’s renowned collections, The Huntington supports research and promotes education in the arts, humanities, and botanical science through the growth and preservation of its collections; the development of a community of scholars, school programs, and partnerships; and the display and interpretation of its extraordinary resources for diverse audiences. The Huntington is located at 1151 Oxford Road, San Marino, California, 12 miles from downtown Los Angeles. Visitor information: huntington.org.