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Jay McKean Fisher had no small role in BMA’s Matisse collection | READER COMMENTARY

Yvonne Chansley of Baltimore looks at "Jazz" by Henri Matisse at the Baltimore Museum of Art’s “A Modern Influence: Henri Matisse, Etta Cone, and Baltimore.” November 19, 2021. (Barbara Haddock Taylor/Baltimore Sun).
Yvonne Chansley of Baltimore looks at "Jazz" by Henri Matisse at the Baltimore Museum of Art’s “A Modern Influence: Henri Matisse, Etta Cone, and Baltimore.” November 19, 2021. (Barbara Haddock Taylor/Baltimore Sun). (Barbara Haddock Taylor/Baltimore Sun)

I want to thank Mary Carole McCauley for her wonderful article on the Baltimore Museum of Art’s soon-to-open Ruth R. Marder Center for Matisse Studies (”‘A coup for Baltimore’: BMA’s new Matisse Center makes city a top destination for students of modern art,” Nov. 24). What a great coup for the BMA to have both the Matisse Center and the Nancy Dorman and Stanley Mazaroff Center for the Study of Prints open to the public Dec. 12.

But the article overlooks the extent of the contribution that Jay McKean Fisher, emeritus senior curator, has made over the decades to making the Matisse Center possible.

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While the article simply states that following Etta Cone’s death in 1949 “the museum subsequently acquired an additional 600 of the artist’s work from other donors, including the Matisse family,” it doesn’t describe how many of those additions happened. An interview I did with Mr. Fisher for the newsletter of the BMA’s Print, Drawing & Photograph Society in 2013 helps.

I asked Mr. Fisher whether Matisse’s daughter Marguerite or her son Claude Duthuit worked directly with the museum, and he said, “Yes, the BMA has had a close relationship with the Matisse family, first through the Cones, but then between BMA staff such as former Director Adelyn Breeskin, former Chief Curator Gertrude Rosenthal and my predecessor, Victor Carlson.”

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When Mr. Carlson left the BMA in 1986, the torch passed to Mr. Fisher, who in the interview was very modest in stating his decades-long efforts to nurture that relationship between the BMA and the Matisse family.

Mr. Fisher’s connection with the Matisse family extended from Matisse’s son Pierre, who was a famous New York dealer of his father’s work, to Claude Duthuit and his wife Barbara, who were both BMA national trustees, and to Marguerite’s assistant Wanda de Guébriant.

In his interview, Mr. Fisher said, “I actually met Claude and his American wife Barbara when I was a student, introduced by a mutual friend in Paris. I had no idea then that Matisse would become such an important part of my activity as a curator, but the friendship of Claude and Barbara — and that direct connection to Matisse — has been immeasurably important and enjoyable to me.”

No wonder that Mr. Fisher became to the first director of the Matisse Center, a position that he held briefly before his retirement. I’m please that the BMA’s Matisse torch has been passed to Katy Rothkopf, formerly the Senior Curator of European Paintings and Sculpture.

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Scott Ponemone, Baltimore

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