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With $5 million gift and new center, Baltimore Museum of Art aims to cement its name as world’s Matisse HQ

With $5 million gift and new center, Baltimore Museum of Art aims to cement its name as world’s Matisse HQ
Henri Matisse. Large seated nude. Original model 1922 1929; this cast 1930. (/ HANDOUT// HANDOUT)

The Baltimore Museum of Art announced Thursday that it will receive $5 million — tying the second-largest gift in the organization’s history — to establish a new center within museum walls dedicated to the works of the artist Henri Matisse.

The $5 million will be used to design and construct a 3,400-square-foot center and to establish an endowment to ensure the facility’s ongoing operations. It’s a gift from the Baltimore-based Ruth Carol Fund, a foundation that supports the arts, education and medical research.

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Once the Matisse center opens in 2021, it will mount a rotating selection of small exhibits of Matisse’s artworks on paper and will be a resource for scholars conducting research on the French painter. The new facility will be named the Ruth R. Marder Center for Matisse Studies in honor of the fund’s late founder, a longtime BMA supporter.

“Her vision, advocacy and commitment to the BMA were essential to the growth of the museum’s collections and curatorial program,” the museum said in a news release.

The center builds on the 1,200 paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints and illustrated books created by Matisse and owned by the Baltimore museum. It cements the BMA’s standing as the premier public institution in the world for studying Matisse and experiencing his art, according to museum director Christopher Bedford.

The announcement means that in 2021, visitors to the BMA will have two dedicated areas to see works by Matisse: the Cone Wing and, for works on paper, the Marder Center.

In 1949, the BMA received 500 works by Matisse as part of a bequest from the Baltimore sisters Claribel and Etta Cone. The collection was later enhanced by 700 additional artworks, including some presented by Matisse’s daughter and other family members.

“Prior to that, my understanding is the BMA was considered a good regional museum,” Bedford wrote in an email.

“The importance of the Cone Collection and the subsequent gifts and acquisitions have made it nearly impossible for any museum to have a substantive Matisse exhibition without a loan from the BMA.

"Having a dedicated space to research the collection as well as the funds for more Matisse exhibitions, publications, and programs will redouble the BMA’s international reputation. And it’s rather extraordinary to have this in a city like Baltimore and not in France.”

The center will be constructed on the first floor of the BMA near the contemporary wing in an area of the museum that has been closed since 2014. It will be overseen by Jay M. Fisher, who until last summer served as the BMA’s chief curator.

“The Ruth Carol Fund is proud to ... support an institution that she long cared for and saw as an important facet of the cultural fabric of Baltimore,” the fund’s president, Donald R. Mering, wrote in the release.

Thursday’s gift equals the $5 million the BMA received in 2007 from an anonymous donor to support the endowment. These contributions are exceeded by only the $10 million the museum also received in 2007 from philanthropist Dorothy McIlvain Scott to endow a wing in American furniture and decorative arts.

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