Oceans, Rivers, Lakes, and Ponds

from The Magazine ANTIQUES, November/December 2013 |

Fig. 3. Lake George Autumn by Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986), 1922. Oil on canvas, 15 by 27 inches. © 2013 Georgia O'Keeffe Museum/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Museums are a fairly recent development in human history, dating back scarcely more than two hundred years. But the founding of such institutions has accelerated so much in the past few decades that everything in the world- or so one might think-seems destined to end up in a museum. To be displayed in a museum is to be can­onized: it is to have one's existence validated and ex­alted. And so it is that, in addition to the Louvres and Prados of the world, we now have the Hash, Mari­huana and Hemp Museum in Amsterdam and the Kansas Barbed Wire Museum in La Crosse.

But few museums are as subtly eccentric as the Minnesota Marine Art Museum (MMAM), founded in 2006 on the banks of the Mississippi, in the town of Winona (pop. 27,592). The only fine arts museum within a hundred miles in any direction, MMAM houses the collection of Robert "Bob" Kierlin and Mary Burrichter, husband and wife. Each of the nearly one thousand works is in some sense an aquatic scene. If these collectors had done nothing more than buy paintings of ships, that might have seemed a little unusual, but it would not be especially eccentric. What is eccentric, however, is that Burrichter and Kierlin (who founded Fastenal, a Winona-based firm that makes fastenings and related hardware for industrial use) have combed through Europe and the United States for art that fulfills only two criteria-that it be of the highest quality and that it depict water somewhere in it, even if only tangentially. All of the works would be welcome additions to any art museum in the world.

Though the Burrichter/Kierlin Collection reaches back, as one might have expected, to seventeenth-century Holland, with a seascape by Simon Jacobsz de Vlieger (Fig. 13), it consists mostly of the work of American and European artists of the last two hundred years. It is especially rich in works of the Hudson River school and of the French impressionists, although it also includes paintings by Pablo Picasso, Andrew Wyeth, and Georgia O'Keeffe.

The representation of water in painting comes, if one will pardon the pun, in waves. The origins of art, especially of the two-dimensional kind that Burrichter and Kierlin collect, seem to have con­sisted in the repudiation of water. Whether through the fortuities of what survives or through some more deliberate intent, the earliest art we know of, the art of the caves, was created far inland, perhaps even before Homo sapiens had learned the arts of navigation and dared to venture upon the seas.

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by Émile Jacques Ruhlmann (1879-1933), 1926. Macassar ebony, amaranth, and ivory. Metropolitan Museum of Art. By Cynthia Drayton

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