Painting A Face On A Museum Floor
by Kent Swarts
The museum had yet to be named. Benefactors had given millions in gifts plus many paintings to the permanent or temporary collections. Wealthy families or individuals loaned art that made the infant museum credible. Even with these benefactors, the board waited for the right person, the one who would make the art museum sizzle.
While small, the collection, according to Denise Priest, art aficionado of The Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, “contains many key pieces illuminating three decades of evolution in this movement.”
Ft. Worth possesses several reputable museums covering most artistic periods, but no other had an Impressionist collection spanning its early painters from 1860 running through 1892 the end of the movement. The unnamed museum’s acquisitions of the earliest Impressionists included Cézanne, Pissarro, and the early iconoclast, Manet. The directors acquired over eighteen pieces by mid-period artists such as Monet, and Matisse. The museum’s crowning achievement was the acquisition of twenty paintings by the late period Impressionist Mary Cassatt. This artist gave the museum its potential for prominence among all museums that focused on the modern genre. All they needed was a prominent name for the museum. So, Beverly DuPont, Head Curator, and Ed Klein, Director, now spent most of their time cajoling wealthy suitors.
The museum made its soft opening on March 21st with a show called Celebrate Impressionism, Celebrate Spring. The museum’s exhibit was well received, and the press gave the museum high marks. A week later, a man and woman arrived in a chauffeured Bentley and stood leaning against the car staring at the façade through dark sunglasses. They commented to each other, and strutted into the museum shedding coats and sunglasses.
“Hello. Welcome to our Impressionists’ exhibit,” said Beverly.
“Thank you. I’m Cary de Lawrence and my wife, Dava.” He paused. “Emile Cardon when critiquing the 1874 Exhibition of the Revoltes in Paris said, ‘One wonders whether one is seeing the fruit either of a process of mystification which is highly unsuitable for the public, or the result of mental derangement. It is in this vein, you conjured the museum.’”
Dava said, “It’s why we came. To see how these deranged artists progressed over three decades.” She smiled. “Your museum appears to be the only one to recognize a move within the movement.”
“Do make yourselves at home and enjoy. If there is anything—”
“We are sure there will be,” he said.
Bev watched them walk into the Early Room hand in hand, Dava’s high heels clicking on the marble floor. She rushed to her office and searched the Internet for their names, finding no reference. She called a good friend and benefactor and asked her if she had heard of de Lawrence. She hadn’t. Bev asked Ed, and he asked his friends and colleagues. No one had heard of the de Lawrence.
Two hours later, the couple walked hand in hand to the rotunda where their coats and glasses lay on a bench. Both Beverly and Ed walked to them.
“From your expressions you seem to have enjoyed the exhibit,” said Ed.
Dava said, “We did. Did you know early showings at salons were sanctioned by Emperor Napoleon III? We think a sanctioner is what your museum needs.”
Beverly said, “We don’t quite understand.”
“You have no major benefactor,” said Cary.
“My husband and I will write you a check for $20 million if you will name the museum after us. And we will give you eight paintings.”
“We are honored, but please understand, we know nothing about you.”
“We don’t expect you to jump in with both feet. Look around. We’re from Monaco, are art patrons, and wish to remain insular to some degree. We purchased a winter home locally.”
Dava said, “Over time, we think that you will find us refined and supportive of the arts—all arts—and most fascinating. Our attorney will contact you.”
Over the next two months, an attorney provided information about the de Lawrence, and they stopped by to donate the eight paintings.
Six months later, the board voted to name the museum the de Lawrence Museum for Impressionist Art. When the name was publicly unveiled carved above the entry and in the rotunda floor, the couple sent their pardon for not attending. Two weeks later, the de Lawrences made a quick tour of the museum and hosted a dinner for patrons and staff at an upscale restaurant, but after greeting their guests, they left.
Over the year, the LMI gained recognition. Internationally, the museum was known to have the most comprehensive collection of Impressionist art in the U.S. As a result, others donated money and paintings from their collections. The small prestigious museum gave the city of Ft. Worth yet another bragging right.
An agent with the FBI demanded a meeting with the director, curator and mayor. “The de Lawrence couple are impostors. Solid evidence shows every painting they gave the museum is a forgery. They stole the money they gave you.
“It seems you have named your museum for felons who have vanished into thin air. They don’t exist in this world. I’m not sure how you will handle the situation. We are here to seize the fakes.”
“What did they have to gain?”
“Fame! Infamous fame.” The agent made arrangements to collect the paintings and left.
“This is not easily explained,” said Beverly.
The mayor said, “This doesn’t diminish the importance of the collection. The notoriety the museum and our city will get can be leveraged. Our peril will be a magnet drawing thousands.”
“But how do we break the news?”
“Through a media event focused on creating excitement. Years ago when my family and I visited Colorado, we drove to Central City to see the face on the barroom floor. We heard several stories how it got there. Regardless, the old faded face drew thousands of tourists. We must paint a similar face per se.”
Ed smiled, thinly, painfully. It was an approach. The only one.
◊ ◊ ◊
Kent Swarts is a retired aerospace engineer and an active astronomer. He publishes the club’s newsletter. He is a published author of short stories in three anthologies and online. He lives in Waco, Texas with his wife.