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In the spring of 1925, the famed painter John Singer Sargent was preparing to travel from London to Boston. His plan? To oversee the final installation of murals he’d created for the Museum of Fine Arts — mythic works that would join similar paintings at the Boston Public Library and Harvard’s Widener Library, cementing the artist’s relationship with the city he loved.

But Sargent never made the trip: He died in his sleep before embarking on the voyage.

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About nine months ago, Sylvan Barnet, 88, a professor emeritus of English literature at Tufts University, was told that he had brain cancer. The doctors said that he had between six months and a year to live. His partner, William Burto — a retired chair of the English department at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell — died in 2013, aged 92, after four years of illness.

Burto and Barnet met in graduate school at Harvard University in 1951. Together over the course of half a century, as they taught English, wrote textbooks, and lived in a small house in Cambridge with a third professor, the two men quietly amassed one of the finest private collections of Japanese calligraphy and religious art outside of Japan.

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Paintings by postwar abstract artist Mark Rothko are highly coveted — in May one of his works sold at auction in London for $50 million. But oddly enough, Harvard University has had a handful of Rothkos — faded by sunlight and splattered with food and drink — in storage. Now, new technology has led to a potentially controversial restoration.

Retired Harvard curator and conservator Marjorie Cohn was an apprentice at the Harvard Art Museums around the time Rothko was commissioned to create wall-sized paintings for a new space at the university's Holyoke Center. When the painter arrived with his finished, rolled-up canvases in 1963, Cohn remembers the entire conservation department showed up to stretch the huge plum and crimson-colored paintings onto wooden frames.

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At first blush, Edward Gorey's popularity might seem something of a puzzle. The prolific author and artist reveled in hermetic scenes of stiff, upper-crust figures in quasi-Edwardian garb and sometimes eyebrow-raising story lines about childhood calamities and grisly murders.

But what might have been limitations to his works turned out to be their very strengths, because of the originality of his vision, his comfortable embrace of absurdity and—perhaps most important—his wonderful, quirky sense of humor.

Who else could create an A-to-Z book about varied disasters befalling children and make it seem charming? Yet he does just that in "The Gashlycrumb Tinies; or, After the Outing" (1963), through his clever, darkly witty turns of phrase and the appealing ridiculousness of the whole thing.

A pair of exhibitions now at the Loyola University Museum of Art—the first ever of this scope in Chicago—offers an exhaustive, fascinating look at this endearing master of the gently spooky or what he called the "mildly unsettling."

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 In the 1960s, the Abstract Expressionist painter Mark Rothko was commissioned by Harvard University to create a series of murals. Completed in 1962, the large panels were displayed in the University’s Holyoke Center (now the Smith Campus Center), which boasts floor-to-ceiling windows, from 1964 to 1979. Over time, the constant exposure to natural light caused the murals to fade and the once-vibrant paintings were relegated to storage, where they remained until now.

The Harvard Art Museums, which will reopen on November 16 following a major renovation, have devised a revolutionary technique to restore the murals to their original richness. The process, which was developed over several years by a team of conservators, curators, and scientists from Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab, and the University of Basel in Switzerland, involves digitally projecting specially calibrated light to correct the murals’ devastating color loss. The works will be unveiled to the public in the exhibition “Mark Rothko’s Harvard Murals.”

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As flowers begin to peak out on campus, many of Harvard’s most recognizable sculptures have also emerged from their winter covers—just in time for a tour of the Yard’s public art works, hosted by Harvard Art Museums on Friday.

“I am interested in the life of objects,” said Francesca G. Bewer, the research curator who shared details about the artists, materials, and history behind the sculptures. “I am interested in how things are made, and I think other people are too.”

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Nearly 35 years ago, a Chinese jade artwork from the 18th century was stolen from a display case at Harvard University’s Fogg Museum. The censer, or incense burner, was returned to the museum on Tuesday, January 21, by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement division following a lengthy investigation. The object  is estimated to be worth $1.5 million.

The green jade censer was donated to the Fogg Museum in 1942 and disappeared shortly after Thanksgiving in 1979. The work remained out of public view until it appeared at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong in 2009. When the censer’s seller failed to provide documentation about the piece’s ownership history, Sotheby’s ran the object through the Art Loss Register of London. The database, which lists works that have been stolen, looted or disputed, alerted the U.S. government of the object’s reappearance and Homeland Security launched its investigation.

A ceremony was held at the Fogg to welcome the jade censer back into the museum’s collection.

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Friday, 13 December 2013 18:04

The Getty’s Curator of Paintings to Retire

Scott Schaefer, the J. Paul Getty Museum’s Senior Curator of Paintings, will retire on January 21, 2014. Schaefer joined the Getty in 1999 after stints at Sotheby’s, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Fogg Museum at Harvard University, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Schaefer, who helmed the Getty’s Paintings department for four years, helped the museum acquire a total of 70 paintings and pastels and five sculptures. Among the most important recent acquisitions are the Getty’s first paintings by Paul Gauguin, J.M.W. Turner’s Modern Rome, and a rare self-portrait by Rembrandt.

Timothy Potts, the Getty’s director, said, “Through his acquisitions, Scott has made an impact on every one of the Museum’s paintings galleries and, in particular, transformed our eighteenth-century French collection. We will miss his discerning eye, keen intelligence and above all his unswerving commitment to the Museum.”

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Officials at Harvard University in Cambridge, MA announced that they will open the newly renovated and expanded Harvard Art Museums in the fall of 2014. The project, which began in 2008, has entailed a complete reinvention of Harvard’s museum system and will place the Busch-Reisinger Museum, the Arthur M. Sackler Museum, and the Fogg Museum of Art under one state-of-the-art roof.  

Renowned architect Renzo Piano was enlisted to transform 32 Quincy Street, the landmark building that currently houses the Fogg and Busch-Reisinger museums, into Harvard’s artistic hub. The new facility will combine the 32 Quincy Street building, which was constructed in 1927, with a new addition and a striking glass rooftop structure that will allow controlled natural light into the facility’s conservation lab, study centers, and galleries. The overhaul also includes a theater for lectures and public programming.

The Arthur M. Sackler Museum, which was established in 1985 in a separate building from the Fogg and Busch-Reisinger, has remained open during the recent construction. The Sackler will close June 1, 2013 to prepare for the relocation of its remarkable Asian art collection to 32 Quincy Street.

The Bush-Reisinger Museum, which was founded in 1903, is the only museum in North America dedicated to the art from the German-speaking countries of Central and Northern Europe. The Fogg Art Museum, which opened to the public in 1896, boasts extensive holdings of American and European art from the Middle Ages to the present.  

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