Michael Nieland donates impressive sculpture collection to The Westmoreland
A chance encounter with a small bronze statue a young dermatologist spotted in the window of a Madison Avenue antiques shop in the mid-1970s was the beginning of a 40-year love affair with bronze sculpture.
After amassing more than 50 important bronzes of the 19th and early 20th centuries, Dr. Michael L. Nieland of Squirrel Hill has donated his impressive collection to The Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg, and the collection is now on display in its entirety in the exhibit “A Timeless Perfection: American Figurative Sculpture in the Classical Spirit — Gifts from Dr. Michael L. Nieland.”
“I was just entranced by this genre of art, which was previously unfamiliar to me,” says Nieland, who gifted his collection to the museum earlier this year because, “I'd like other people to know that these beautiful objects exist, because in this country people don't know very much about sculpture.”
He points to a few pieces in his collection as intriguing examples:
1.“Young Sophocles” (c. 1890) by John Talbott Donoghue (1853-1903) Depicting a young Sophocles leading the Chorus of Victory after the Battle of Salamis, this piece from the same edition as one of which is currently in the collection of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. “This particular one was owned by Andy Warhol's manager, Fred Hughes,” Nieland says about the piece, which many consider to be the Irish-American sculptor's greatest work.
2. “Andante” (1917) by Mario Korbel (1882-1954) Here two classically styled, female figures dancing, the piece is one of only seven by Czech-born sculptor Mario Joseph Korbel (1882-1954) cast in that size. “That particular one was originally owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Then the sculptor cast two larger ones, and he traded the museum one of the larger ones and took back this one,” Nieland says. Korbel liked to offer front and back views of his figures and also tended to depict women as emblems of innocence.
3. “Rising Day” and “Descending Night,” both by Adolph Weinman (1870-1952) Originally commissioned for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915 in San Francisco to celebrate the joining of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans through the opening of the Panama Canal, these bronze casts are from the same edition as those in the collections of the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitehouse.
4. “Bacchanale Russe” (1913) by Malvina Hoffman (1885–1966) Inspired by dancers in Alexander Glazunov's ballet “The Seasons,” a production of which the artist attended during a two-week stay in London in July 1910, this piece was instrumental in establishing the Hoffman's early reputation. It depicts the dancers at the start of the pas de deux Bacchanale, the fourth and final part of the “Autumn” section of the ballet, as they move forward together, holding a billowing cloth above their heads. Hoffman powerfully captured the sense of movement and spirit of the dance, successfully transmuting rhythmic pulse into three dimensions.
5. “Sweet Grapes” (1928) by Harriet Whitney Frishmuth (1880-1980) This graceful female nude is an excellent example of how adept this American sculptress, who briefly studied with Auguste Rodin at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, was at depicting highly sensual female forms full of beautiful effects. There is a reddish tint to the brown patina. Throughout her career, Frishmuth experimented with patination and regularly visited the foundry where her work was being cast to make sure she was satisfied with the finish. In her later casts, she developed a distinctive green coloration.
As for The Westmoreland Museum, the collection represents a “significant contribution,” says Doug Evans, collections manager at the museum. “It entirely changes the way we can display our permanent collection because, even though we did have a small sculpture collection, with the addition of Dr. Nieland's pieces we are now able to create these layers within the galleries where you can see these three-dimensional objects in space with two-dimensional paintings behind them.”
Kurt Shaw is the Tribune-Review art critic.