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Boom Time for American Art at the Huntington

December 7, 2008 | 11:15 am

Vssgaa2_2 The Huntington is at it again.

On May 30, 2009, just a year after the San Marino institution -- known in full as the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens -- unveiled a $20-million renovation of its historic European art gallery, it will open an expanded exhibition space for American art. The Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art (right) will combine the original Scott Gallery, which has always housed American art, with the Lois and Robert F. Erburu Gallery, a newer structure that has displayed European works. The 16,379-square-foot complex, a $1.6-million redesign and reinstallation project, will more than double the space formerly devoted to the Huntington's American collection.

HopperLong known as a bastion of British art, the Huntington received a gift of 50 American paintings from the Virginia Steele Scott Foundation in 1979, including Edward Hopper's circa 1930 sailing picture, "The Long Leg" (left). Today the American collection encompasses about 9,400 paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs and decorative objects. The new complex will offer thematic and chronological displays in 15 galleries. Curator Jessica Todd Smith plans to illuminate the history of American art by exploring themes such as portraiture, landscape, scenes of everyday life and transatlantic exchanges of ideas.

Zenobia_3 Along with familiar paintings by Benjamin West, Frederic Edwin Church and Mary Cassatt, visitors will find an exhibit about George Washington, a collection of 18th- and 19th-century silver, Tiffany glass and Greene and Greene furniture. Recent acquisitions include "Zenobia in Chains" (right), a monumental marble sculpture of the queen of Palmyra (now Syria) made in 1859 by Harriet Goodhue Hosmer. The intricately carved sculpture made a big splash at the International Exhibition in London in 1862, raising questions about whether a woman could have done such an ambitious and masterful job. "Zenobia" eventually disappeared into a private collection and was all but forgotten until November 2007, when the Huntington bought it at a London auction for $397,878.

-- Suzanne Muchnic

Photos: Weldon Brewster Photography and the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens