There could hardly be a better argument for keeping the Lucas Collection in Baltimore than the exhibit "Parallels and Precedents," opening today at the Baltimore Museum of Art.
It shows that the Lucas Collection fits into Baltimore's holdings of 19th- and early 20th-century art like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, like threads in a tapestry. Take away the Lucas works by #F Daumier and Corot, Boudin and Constant, Whistler and Manet, and you leave the Monets and Pissarros and Matisses in other Baltimore collections with less context. You leave holes in the fabric of our civilization.
And that is what's now threatened.
In January, the Maryland Institute, College of Art, announced its intention to sell all or part of the Lucas Collection to boost its $9 million endowment. The institute asked the city Circuit Court to declare that it has the right to sell the art, valued at not less than $7 million.
The Baltimore Museum of Art and the Walters Art Gallery, where the collection of about 20,000 pieces of 19th century art has been on loan for more than half a century, have asked the court to prohibit such a sale.
The Lucas Collection exhibit opens just a month before a Sept. 27 court hearing in the case, prompting the institute to complain that the BMA is trying to sway public opinion by staging the show now.
"Since the museums feel so strongly about the collection, the trustees and I believe they should acquire it," Fred Lazarus, the institute's president, said in a statement issued as the exhibit opened.
The show, of course, does not attempt to address all the issues involved in whether or not the institute has the right to sell the Lucas Collection. But it does make a compelling case for the museums' position that losing the Lucas Collection would be a major blow to art in Baltimore.
Between them, the BMA and the Walters possess extraordinary holdings in 19th- and early 20th-century art, especially French art. Lucas (1824-1909), who lived in Paris and served as an agent for the Walterses and other collectors, amassed a collection that included some 18,000 prints; several hundred paintings, drawings and watercolors; and a major collection of sculptures and other works by the French animalist sculptor Antoine-Louis Barye. This show's juxtapositions show the interrelationships of the collections.
Side-by-side are a 19th-century odalisque (a female figure in Middle Eastern costume) by Benjamin Constant, from the Lucas Collection, and an odalisque by Matisse from the BMA's Cone Collection. The poses, the color of the clothes, the background decorations of the two paintings are all similar. Together they show that Matisse, one of the greatest of modern painters, was also part of a continuity, carrying on the 19th-century Orientalist tradition.
On one wall are five works by Corot and his pupil Pissarro -- an earlier Corot and two earlier Pissarros from the Lucas Collection, and a later Corot and a later Pissarro from the BMA's collections. They show the similarities between Corot and early Pissarro, followed by Pissarro's development into the full-fledged impressionism of the 1880 painting "The Highway." Much the same is true of the grouping of Lucas collection paintings by Johan-Barthold Jongkind and Eugene Boudin, and the Walters and BMA paintings by their student, Monet.
These groupings indicate that impressionism grew out of earlier 19th-century art. Take away the Lucas works, and you couldn't tell that story as it's told here.
In the print section are monotypes by L. N. Lepic, from the Lucas Collection, and Edgar Degas, from the BMA collection; Lepic taught Degas how to make the monotype, a form of unique print.
Lucas works also help to tell the story of American art in local collections. For instance, Theodore Robinson and John Singer Sargent canvases from the BMA flank a painting from the Lucas Collection by Emile-Auguste Carolus-Duran, the French teacher of both American painters.
Sometimes, contrast can be as enlightening as similarity. Honore Daumier's watercolor, "The Grand Staircase of the Palace of Justice," from the Lucas Collection, and Thomas Couture's oil, "Judge Going to Court," from the Walters, take quite different views of the legal profession: Daumier's satire pricks the pompousness of the profession, while Couture's gentle picture emphasizes its industry. Each helps illuminate the other.
Sometimes a Lucas work serves as the culmination of a series rather than the starting point. Daumier's lithograph, "Rue