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Rhodes Senior Says McCall Collection at Brooks Museum Has Brought Value to Memphis

Publication Date: 12/14/2011

Amy Aughinbaugh with “Portrait of Queen Henrietta Maria” by Sir Anthony van Dyck

The “Art and Scandal: The McCall Purchase” exhibition at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art starts Dec. 17. As an intern at the Brooks this fall, Rhodes senior Amy Aughinbaugh is assisting with the exhibition. She also is author of the paper “The McCall Controversy: A Look Into Art and Politics of 1940s Memphis” she wrote as a fellow of Rhodes’ 2011 Institute for Regional Studies.

In 1943, the City of Memphis spent $ 30,000 for 38 paintings from the Saint Louis collector Warner S. McCall. At the time, this expenditure of public funds for fine art ignited a huge civic debate. The controversy was fueled by dynamic exchanges in the local press and eventually attracted national attention.

Despite the controversy, the purchase brought to the Brooks works by Winslow Homer, George Inness, Sir Anthony van Dyck, and Sofonisba Anguissola. Wrote Aughinbaugh in her paper, “The McCall collection of the Brooks Museum of Art not only healthily matured as a monetary investment, the cultural and educational impact of the artworks contained in this local gallery are and have always been of immeasurable value to the Memphis community.”

In addition, Aughinbaugh says, “The McCall purchase is noteworthy because it was essentially a pivot point from which the Brooks began to flourish. Adding the McCall European Old Masters to the already important Brooks Museum American paintings, helped attract the future Kress donation of Italian Renaissance artworks.”

The upcoming “Art and Scandal: The McCall Purchase” exhibition will explore the origins of the McCall collection, how it arrived in Memphis, the political ramifications of the purchase, and the role of connoisseurship in building a museum’s collection. It runs through May 13, 2012.

“My experience working and researching at the Brooks has been a wonderful opportunity. This internship has been my first opportunity to witness and participate in the inner-workings of museum business,” says Aughinbaugh. “I’m especially lucky because my fall internship also followed a full summer of research at the Brooks through the Rhodes Institute. Researching museum history and then participating in exhibition preparations has given me a look into the full scope of curatorial duties. I’m very grateful to have spent nearly six months at such an important Memphian culture hub.”

 Winslow Homer, Reading by the Brook, 1879 (image courtesy of the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art)

Tags: Arts/Performances, Students


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