The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) presents the debut exhibition of an outstanding collection of American painting, furniture, and decorative arts that was assembled by philanthropists Carolyn and Peter Lynch over the course of fifty years. “A Passion for American Art: Selections from the Carolyn and Peter Lynch Collection” takes visitors on the personal collecting journey of a couple who shared an extraordinary life together.
Through travel, exploration, and intellectual curiosity, the Lynches amassed a broad-ranging collection that includes spectacular, classic furniture from Boston, New York, and Philadelphia; paintings by Childe Hassam, Martin Johnson Heade, Winslow Homer, and John Singer Sargent; works by modern furniture master Sam Maloof; and pottery by Otto and Gertrud Natzler. Also featured are three significant works by Georgia O’Keeffe, Childe Hassam, and J.O.J. Frost that were recently donated to PEM by Peter Lynch in memory of his late wife, Carolyn Lynch. By embracing an organic approach to collecting and by freely integrating multiple subjects, time frames, and media, the Lynches created lively conversations about artistic creativity, regional styles, and evolving traditions in America.
This jewel-box exhibition celebrates the couple’s abiding love of nature and of American history through 120 works of decorative art, 36 pieces of furniture, 35 paintings and sculptures, and 10 Native American artworks. The majority of the works are pristine examples of American creativity from the 18th and 19th centuries — an era when many artists echoed the latest styles and forms from Europe while also striving to express new American ideals, beliefs, and regional tastes. The exhibition and the accompanying exhibition catalog, A Passion for American Art, reflect how the couple integrated works of various periods and styles into their unique living spaces.
“In so many ways, this remarkable collection speaks to the personal and singular collecting journey that the couple shared for nearly half a century, exploring and embracing many aspects of American artistic creativity,” said Dean Lahikainen, PEM’s Carolyn and Peter Lynch Curator of American Decorative Art.
Peter was raised outside of Boston, and Carolyn was from Pennsylvania; both grew up surrounded by history. Upon buying their first house together in Marblehead, the newly married couple discovered that antique furniture often cost less than buying new. Soon, they also began collecting blue and white export porcelain as well. Peter bought Carolyn an antique rocking cradle for her first Mother’s Day, after the eldest of their three daughters was born. Their penchant for acquiring art only continued to grow, and they were active in the groundswell of collecting American art that followed the United States bicentennial in 1976. The Lynches fell deeply in love with old Marblehead and embraced its rich history, most notably by collecting Marblehead Pottery and the work of local folk artist J.O. J. Frost.
From the beginning, the couple collected and displayed artwork according to their tastes, rather than by strict rules. Eventually, different subjects, time periods, and media freely mixed in their Marblehead, Boston, and Arizona houses. Collecting offered the couple a way to strengthen their personal connection to place.
Later, the Lynches bought a home on the coast of Marblehead Neck, the 1938 Howard A. Colby House, one of the few International Style houses designed by the famed Boston architect Royal Barry Wills. This home would be filled with the impressive American seascapes that reflected their view. While the Lynches never developed strict rules for collecting or displaying their collection, in Marblehead Neck they transformed the entire interior of the house, creating six “period rooms” for the collection, using 18th-century woodwork, period hardware, and old wide-board flooring supplied by architectural salvage companies.
With an eye toward retirement, the Lynches embarked on their last major home project in 2001, when they purchased land in the Arizona desert. Working with architect Jeff Biever, they designed a main house and several smaller structures in a contemporary Spanish Mission style. Turning to their good friend Sam Maloof to design furniture for the principal rooms, the Lynches also embraced new generations of American artists — including Native American artists, who expanded the scope and meaning of what constitutes American art.
“This exhibition not only allows us to marvel at the range of American traditions and creativity but also appreciate how collecting can amplify a sense of place and express aesthetic and intellectual values,” says Lahikainen.
PHILANTHROPISTS AND ART LOVERS
Best known for heading Fidelity’s Magellan Fund, the best performing mutual fund in the world, Peter Lynch is also a major philanthropist. Together, the couple established the Lynch Foundation in 1988 to support nonprofit organizations in the greater Boston community. For many years, Carolyn served as a PEM Trustee and Overseer and helped found the museum’s American Decorative Arts Committee. In 2014, the Lynch Foundation generously created an endowment for the PEM’s robust changing exhibition program.
“A Passion for American Art” features three works gifted to PEM’s American art collection by Peter Lynch in memory of his late wife. These include Marblehead folk artist J.O.J. Frost, American Impressionist painter Childe Hassam, and American master Georgia O’Keeffe. PEM has presented solo exhibitions in recent years of both Hassam and O’Keeffe’s works.
Frost’s 1925 panoramic masterwork, an oil on fiberboard painting called “The March into Boston from Marblehead, April 16, 1861: There Shall Be No More War,” is of exceptional quality and scale. The local and national histories referenced in the painting, coupled with the highly-detailed, large-scale panoramic narrative scene, has broad appeal. The painting is poignantly autobiographical, capturing Frost’s childhood memory of watching his father alongside other Marblehead men depart on foot to Faneuil Hall in Boston to enlist in the Civil War.
A key loan in PEM’s 2016 exhibition, “American Impressionist: Childe Hassam and the Isles of Shoals,” Hassam’s 1911 painting “East Headland, Appledore, Isles of Shoals” is a masterpiece within Hassam’s Appledore oeuvre. “East Headland” is the first major American impressionist picture, and the first Hassam, to enter PEM’s collection. The work also holds special significance to the Lynch family as Peter took Carolyn to Appledore as a birthday surprise to see the island and the site depicted in this painting.
In “Cedar and Red Maple, Lake George,” 1921, O’Keeffe’s treatment of natural forms and unconventional contours resulted in a modernist painting that abstracts, combines, and layers the landscape in ways that — at the time — were unprecedented in American art. This painting would have been a perfect addition to PEM’s 2018 blockbuster exhibition, “Georgia O’Keeffe: Art, Image, Style.” The small but vivid canvas is characteristic of her aesthetic responses to the Lake George landscape, and was formerly in MoMA’s collection. This gift dramatically bolsters PEM’s expanding and diversifying collection of works by women and by modern artists.
“A Passion for American Art: Selections from the Carolyn and Peter Lynch Collection” is on view at the Peabody Essex Museum (Salem, MA) through December 1, 2019.