Winthrop at Home

At the Fogg from Jan. 23 to March 31

THERE IS a double homecoming at the Fogg. The Grenville L. Winthrop Retrospective is an exhibit of the Fogg's greatest bequest, given by Grenville Winthrop in 1943. The show evokes the collection's first home in Mr. Winthrop's East 81st Street apartment, and simultaneously establishes how much at home it is in the Fogg Museum on Quincy Street. I have never seen such a combination of warmth and excellence in a show here -- professional in its catalogue, hanging, and choosing of objects and so intimate at the same time.

The intimacy starts with the catalogue which gives a full, personal account of Winthrop's life. It makes good if somehow sad reading--the story of a quiet Victorian son of an old New England family, his secluded life and his single passion for collecting.

The entrance to the exhibit closely parallels the catalogue introduction. Huge interior photographs of Winthrop's New York apartment are displayed--the beautiful objects of his collection crowded into their original setting. Glass cases across from these photographs hold his undergraduate notebooks, a Christmas card from his art dealer, a letter to the National Gallery explaining why Winthrop was choosing to give his collection to Harvard instead of to it, and a bronze portrait of him executed by his daughter.

All of these set a rare ambiance for a formidable showing. The group of three graduate students who set up the show made a selection representative of Winthrop's own preferences, accentuating French drawings and Chinese jades and bronzes. There are fabulous ritual bronzes--my favorites are a big bell from the Chou dynasty and a pouring vessel with a lion's head at the front and an owl on its back.

Winthrop's collection of Ingres, third largest in the world, is complemented by Delacroix, Corot, Daumier, and Gericault. The drawings from Blake's illustrations of Dante, including a wonderful Lucia Carrying Dante in his Sleep, and the pre-Raphelite drawings make the English drawing a contingent rival of the French. The single Van Gogh portrait drawing is my favorite of the lot.


The exhibit contains more objects--and more diverse ones--than I could possibly mention. There are wedgewood pieces, ceramics, and clocks -- among the objects that most people enjoy least in museums. But it is wonderful to think about all of these things really belonging to one strange lonely man, drawings, clocks, bronzes and all. This show certainly makes one think of Winthrop, and look at the collection with a feeling for him, in his house, looking at them. I can just see him in front of one of his lovely clocks, trying to decide whether to set the alarm at "air," "dance," "gavotte," or "song."