Almost exactly thirty years ago, we contracted what turned out to be a benign but formidable condition that proved only slightly hazardous to our financial health: we began to collect American art.
Charles and Babette Wampold, 2006
This ironic observation was written by Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wampold for an essay titled “A Passion for Collecting American Art” in 2006. The MMFA’s accompanying exhibition, Adventures in Collecting Art, was an assemblage of twenty-seven works, including twelve the Wampolds had previously gifted the Museum’s collection over a period of twenty-four years. It was a joyous celebration of this remarkable couple who devoted their time, talents, and resources to educating themselves, and then locating the historically important works of American art that eventually graced their Montgomery home. (They first exhibited their collection at the MMFA in 1984–the photograph below was taken at that opening.)
(above: George Inness (American, 1825-1894), Albano, Italy, ca. 1874-1876), oil on canvas, Gift of Babette L. Wampold in memory of Charles H. Wampold, 2015.16.)
After Charles’ death in 2010, Babette elected in 2013 to make a long-term loan of the remainder of their collection, with the intention of eventually donating their holdings to the Museum and the Montgomery community. Late this past year she identified the magnificent George Inness landscape Albano, Italy (ca. 1874-1876) as her gift to the MMFA for the year 2015. This canvas was one of their favorites; it had graced the Wampold’s dining room for many years and it now has pride of place in our permanent collection gallery devoted to nineteenth- century painting. (right: Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wampold, 1984)
Nature was George Inness’s major muse, but his art training was heavily reliant on the European academic tradition— both his techniques and compositions were influenced by his exposure to European landscape. Lake Albano is a small crater lake in the Alban Hills, about 15 miles southeast of Rome, near the Pope’s summer residence at Castel Gandolfo. During this period in his career, Inness’s practice was to make drawings, watercolors, and oil sketches on site that sometimes served as sources for other paintings. However, he also exhibited and sold loosely sketched canvases such as Albano, Italy as finished paintings. As a component of his larger body of work, Inness’s gestural style seen here more fully suggests atmosphere and mood.
The MMFA board and staff continue to appreciate the connoisseurship and generosity of Charles and Babette Wampold. Works such as this George Inness that were once comfortably situated in the Wampolds’ home have now found their permanent residence at the MMFA, increasing the breadth and depth of the Museum’s collection of American paintings and sculpture.