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Hearst the Collector - Exhibition
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
November 2008 - February 2009

William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951) was not only one of the most influential forces in the history of journalism, but also one of the most remarkable art collectors of all time. He was caricatured in the film "Citizen Kane," which continues to distort his image.

The sole heir to a colossal fortune that stemmed from the Gold Rush of 1849, Hearst built an empire in publishing from a single newspaper. He revolutionized the technology of news media, transformed the graphic design of newspapers, and promoted the development of the newsreel. He became a conspicuous movie producer. Through his art-director, the Viennese designer Joseph Urban, he decisively altered the visual language of American film.

Over the course of four decades (c. 1910 - c. 1950), Hearst assembled the largest, finest private collection of classical Greek vases of his day, the most extensive private collection of arms and armor of the time, and a legendary treasure of goldsmith’s work, Georgian silver, and Limoges enamels. His collection of tapestries was without peer. He distributed his art with logic and flair throughout six sumptuous residences. With an inherited taste for luxury and his unique attention to detail, Hearst conceived and directed much of the design of their splendid interiors himself.

An obituary estimated that Hearst alone had accounted for 25% of the world's art-market activity during the 1920s and '30s. Although this was likely an exaggerated figure, it gives a sense of how the tremendous span of his holdings was perceived at the time. Hearst’s sophistication was undeniable, but his passion for the American frontier set him apart from his peers on the eastern seaboard. Unlike them, he was not analytical, introspective, focused, or cerebral. He was extravagant, amusing, intuitive, and voracious.

In the history of collecting, this paradoxical figure was dismissed or denigrated, and his treasures were habitually disparaged in terms of quantity over quality. Yet the truth is that Hearst owned paintings and sculptures by Boucher, Canova, Clodion, Copley, David, van Dyck, Fragonard, Gérôme, Greuze, Lawrence, Marin, Reynolds, Sansovino, Thorvaldsen, and Vouet. His classical antiquities boasted the illustrious provenances of Buckingham, Hamilton, Hope, Lansdowne, and Mazarin.

When Hearst’s empire was threatened with bankruptcy in 1937-38, his collections were divided. He was obliged to surrender half to his corporation, much of it to be sold to restore solvency. The dispersal has hindered an accurate assessment of Hearst’s real achievements as a collector. Over time, dozens of Hearst’s possessions would reappear -- sometimes with no trace of his name in their provenance -- in the Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Rijksmuseum, the Kimbell Art Museum, the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, Somerset House (London), Colonial Williamsburg, the National Gallery of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art (fully 25% of its renowned Kienbusch Collection of Arms and Armor was Hearst’s), the Walters Art Museum, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Royal Armouries in Leeds, the Burrell Collection in Glasgow, Thorvaldsens Museum in Copenhagen, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and still other museums, from New Zealand to Mexico to Jerusalem. William Randolph Hearst was a thrillingly imaginative patron of architecture, and the greatest individual donor to the Los Angeles County Museum. His gifts to Los Angeles, in only about six years (1946-51), laid the foundation upon which an encyclopedic art museum could be built.

This unprecedented exhibition will open the eyes of the general public and experts alike to an amazing episode in the history of collecting. By reassembling and contextualizing the best works of art that he had owned, this exhibition will offer explanations for why -- and how -- Hearst acquired what he did. Never before has there been a systematic attempt to assess and recreate a comprehensive image of what his collections comprised. Approximately 160 significant objects from Hearst’s collections will be reunited here for the first time. A number of exceptional loans from Hearst Castle will include Canova’s Venus Italica. Additional loans will come from the Louvre, Thorvaldsens Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Royal Armouries of Great Britain, the National Gallery of Art and many other museums. Several loans from private collections have been confirmed, too.

A scholarly, fully illustrated catalogue with much unpublished primary documentation drawn from Hearst’s correspondence will be published in conjunction with the exhibition. This book will be a lasting contribution to the history of art and collecting. The exhibition will be coordinated and promoted jointly with the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the opening of Hearst Castle to the public.

-Mary Levkoff, Curator European Sculpture & Paintings, LACMA