The Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford has landed the first plums from the bequest of billionaire publisher Richard Mellon Scaife, who died in July and left his collection of more than 500 artworks to the Brandywine and the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg, Pa.
The two museums began selecting paintings Wednesday as if choosing sides for a pickup ball game: They made alternating picks.
Team Brandywine, led by museum director Thomas Padon, chose five oil paintings: Martin Johnson Heade's New Jersey Salt Marsh (no date); John Kensett's Hudson River View From Dobbs Ferry, New York, (no date); Guy Pène du Bois' The Appraisal (1926); Albert Bierstadt's Coast of California (no date); and Theodore Robinson's Yacht Club Basin, Cos Cob Harbor (1894).
In an all-day binge in Greensburg, the two museums went through 140 paintings, each selecting 70.
"What an exciting day!" Padon said on his return to Chadds Ford Wednesday night. "As a museum director, imagine in one day getting 70 paintings!"
The teams from the two museums - Team Westmoreland was led by Judith H. O'Toole, the museum's director and chief executive - will take a breather, then continue next week.
Padon was very happy with his first selections.
"Those are absolutely all top choices," he said of the first five. "Heade was far and away our first pick. It was back and forth between the Heade and the Kensett . . . . Kensett is a stunning example of his Hudson River work. . . . But the Heade is a most powerful painting. It says everything about his brilliance. The luminous sky, the light."
Scaife, 82, was known for his backing of conservative causes and think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation. An heir to the Mellon banking and oil fortune, he was publisher of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and other newspapers.
The billionaire may have been famous for his right-wing causes, but he also was a major collector of American art and backer of conservation and environmental efforts.
He had major ties to the Brandywine Conservancy, where he had been a board member since 1978, according to his old friend George A. "Frolic" Weymouth, chairman of the Brandywine board.
In addition to half his art, Scaife left a 900-acre estate known as Penguin Court, in Western Pennsylvania, to the conservancy. He also left a $15 million endowment to care for the property in perpetuity.
The Westmoreland museum's top five picks were George Inness' Moonrise, Alexandria Bay (1891); William Merritt Chase's Interior, Oak Manor (1899); Jasper Cropsey's Starucca Vale (1896); Guy Pène du Bois' Rose Madder Club (1934); and John Kensett's Twilight on the Seashore (c. 1872).
Padon said there were no restrictions on the art bequest, which consists almost entirely of works by American artists. The two museums will most likely jointly sell a few non-American works that do not fit into either collection, he said, and put the money into their acquisition funds.
Padon said Scaife's paintings would "both enrich and enhance the Brandywine's own holdings in many instances." The Heade and du Bois works are the first by those artists to enter the Brandywine collection.
Scaife's interest in 19th- and early 20th-century landscapes and still-lifes, in particular, Padon said, "aligns with the Brandywine's holdings while at the same time broadening the collection to encompass a wider spectrum of American art."