When I was librarian at the Kimbell Art Museum in the 1980s, I was still fairly green as an art historian. I hadn’t taught at all, and I hadn’t yet finished my dissertation. But I was treated as an equal by the curators and the Director, Ted Pillsbury, chiefly because I was the only one on staff who could read and speak German. When the museum had a show of Jean-Baptiste Oudry, many of the works came from Schwerin, then still in East Germany. As the East Germans sent a courier who was a good party member and consequently spoke no English, I was dragooned into going to the airport to pick her up. Since Max was then only about 5 months old, I had to take him along with me, which, in the end, was a good thing: a baby worked wonders with the woman who arrived. “Ein kräftiges Kind”, I can hear her saying–a strong child!
The Kimbell at that time was on a huge buying roll. They had just purchased Cezanne’s Man in a Blue Smock for the then-astronomical sum of $5 million, as well as some amazing treasures that very few other American museums at the time could afford to buy. One of the works that had come on the market then was a very small painting by the relatively unknown artist–at least unknown in America–Caspar David Friedrich. At the time, no Friedrichs were in any American museum, and German art in general had been largely dismissed by most of the major institutions. I adored Friedrich, and said as much. And once again, because I was the only one who had any knowledge of German art and language, I was asked to write up the object presentation for the museum’s board meeting where it was decided which objects would be purchased. Most of the board then were still the rich old cronies of Kimbell himself–they knew more about money than they did about art–but still, one had to make a good case for the work to get it approved. I was understandably nervous about this, my first professional piece of writing about art; I worked very hard at making it sound significant. I was thrilled when the grand man Robert Rosenblum–called in as the expert appraiser–complimented me on my presentation.
While going through and tossing 40 years of academic papers, I came across this piece, which I hadn’t seen in many years. I didn’t even know I still had it. And now, because of the internet, there’s the painting, too. The museum did buy the Friedrich!