“Hidden Treasures” at Vero Beach Museum of Art

Selections from local collectors take center stage in Vero Beach Museum of Art’s latest exhibition

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Cabane des Douaniers by Claude Monet, oil on canvas, 23.63 x 27.88 inches
Cabane des Douaniers by Claude Monet, oil on canvas, 23.63 x 27.88 inches

A coastal view of blue-green waters, painted by the great Impressionist Claude Monet. Bouquets of flowers against an abstract and vibrant blue background, by Marc Chagall. A slice-of-life scene that offers insights into human nature, by Norman Rockwell. A touching mother-and-child scene by Mary Cassatt. An iridescent hummingbird hovering near an orchid, by Martin Johnson Heade.  

What do all these very different works of art have in common?  

They are all found in private collections within the Vero Beach community. And they are part of a special exhibition now on display at the Vero Beach Museum of Art.

Swimmer by Alex Katz, oil on canvas, 36 x 51 inches, from the George and Marlen Higgs collection
Swimmer by Alex Katz, oil on canvas, 36 x 51 inches, from the George and Marlen Higgs collection

The exhibit features some 100 works of art and encompasses the three largest galleries of VBMA, running until May 15. Titled “Vero Collects,” it also has an apt subtitle: “Hidden Treasures Revealed.” 

VBMA’s Senior Curator Anke Van Wagenberg worked with more than 40 different lenders to arrange this special opportunity to give the public a sneak peek into the often private world of art collecting. Some of the works featured have never before been on public display. Van Wagenberg says, “I’ve just been really impressed by the quality of collecting here in Vero.” 

She was also impressed by the willingness of collectors to share some of their masterpieces with VBMA for the exhibit. “I’m grateful that everyone had enthusiasm and wanted to participate.” Because of their cooperation, the hidden treasures of the Vero Beach art world are indeed being revealed.

Star Gazer II by Elizabeth Catlett, bronze, 15 x 36.5 x 11 inches, from the George and Marlen Higgs collection
Star Gazer II by Elizabeth Catlett, bronze, 15 x 36.5 x 11 inches, from the George and Marlen Higgs collection

With artwork that spans a vast spectrum of styles, from Dutch Baroque to Contemporary, the exhibit has something for everyone’s taste. Arranging such a variety of works might seem like a challenge, though. How does one find a sense of order in an unpredictable array of work? By embracing the surprises and making collecting itself the key theme.  

This concept was reflected by a distinguished guest speaker who addressed a VBMA audience in the days leading up to the exhibition’s opening. Desmond Shawe-Taylor, former surveyor of the queen’s pictures, led off 2022’s International Lecture Series by speaking about the origins of the Royal Collections in Great Britain. In an exclusive interview with Vero Beach Magazine, Shawe-Taylor shares some of his insights into the nature of collecting.  

The Royal Collection, he explains, began with King Charles I during the 1600s. The king was a passionate art collector, and “this enthusiasm is clearly the prime mover of any collection and can be seen very clearly, not only in the works acquired but in their display. In the presentation of key private rooms, you see how a final personal choice is made from the hundreds of works acquired.” 

Roommates by Roy Lichtenstein, screen print, 57.88 x 45.5 inches, from the George and Marlen Higgs collection
Roommates by Roy Lichtenstein, screen print, 57.88 x 45.5 inches, from the George and Marlen Higgs collection

Along with the shared element of enthusiasm among collectors, Shawe-Taylor’s studies dovetail with the “Vero Collects” exhibit because of the interplay between private collections and public interest. He notes, “It is important to remember that Charles I’s collection was something of a public project.” 

For example, the king acquired Italian masterpieces by Raphael which were used as the basis for English tapestries; this stimulated the textile arts in England, whereas previously most of the tapestries found in England’s castles had been imported from the Continent. Charles I also planned to establish an academy to foster the arts, although his “tragic fate”—execution at the behest of his enemies—prevented this project from coming to fruition. Nevertheless, his love for art had laid the foundation of the Royal Collection.

Along with personal enthusiasm, Shawe-Taylor notes that for any collector, there are numerous factors that come into play, “such as interior design and lifestyle—what are your rooms used for and how should they look—or artistic theory.” Thus, “there are so many things which are more course than player.” He adds, however, that “on the more personal side, collecting can be a form of dramatization—almost dressing-up—of yourself or a loved one.” Collections can reveal who people are and who they choose to be. 

Les Amoureaux au Trois Bouquets by Marc Chagall, oil on canvas, 21.5 x 28.75 inches
Les Amoureaux au Trois Bouquets by Marc Chagall, oil on canvas, 21.5 x 28.75 inches

All these factors are undoubtedly reflected in the wide range of selections to be found in the “Vero Collects” exhibit. Van Wagenberg notes, “Some people have very focused collections. There is one of African American art, there is one that is mostly photography. Some are about Latin American artists. Some are about undiscovered artists.” Works from each of these private collections, and more, are featured in “Vero Collects.” Van Wagenberg adds, “One of my goals was to create a closer relationship between collectors and the museum. And I learned so much about why people collect.” Unconsciously echoing Shawe-Taylor, she concludes, “Everybody has enthusiasm and passion.”  

Along with his insights into the history of collecting, Shawe-Taylor is able to offer a special perspective on what it is like to be surrounded by a great collection on a daily basis. As surveyor of the queen’s pictures, he served as a curator for the Royal Collection, and he shares some of his thoughts regarding that extraordinary job description: “The rewards of working with a great art collection are extraordinary, not least the daily privilege of being able to stop and look at some magnificent painting with no object in view but to enjoy it. I certainly have favorites; some are masterpieces, others have something quirky which appeals.” And what are Her Majesty’s favorite paintings? “I can’t speak on behalf of the queen, but it is obvious that she has a special appreciation for Dutch painting from the Golden Age,” he says, adding wryly, “and not a bad collection either.”

However, at last I taught him to call me by name very familiarly by N.C. Wyeth, oil on canvas, 24 x 26.25 inches, from the Joseph and Louise Huber collection
However, at last I taught him to call me by name very familiarly by N.C. Wyeth, oil on canvas, 24 x 26.25 inches, from the Joseph and Louise Huber collection

As it happens, works from Dutch Golden Age master Rembrandt are part of “Vero Collects,” and Van Wagenberg is using an ingenious method to display them. The Rembrandts in the exhibit are etchings, and they are known for their fine detail. Thus, magnifying glasses will be provided as part of the display, allowing visitors to appreciate more fully the intricate nature of these works and the skill of the artist. 

Girl with Hat VI by John Grillo, serigraph, 28.5 x 22.5 inches, from the Thomas and Caroline Vandeventer collection
Girl with Hat VI by John Grillo, serigraph, 28.5 x 22.5 inches, from the Thomas and Caroline Vandeventer collection

For the exhibit as a whole, Van Wagenberg’s strategy has been to “arrange it more or less chronologically, starting with the Old Masters, then the early Americans, then the European Impressionists, and then the present day.” The European Impressionist section includes Monet’s beautiful Cabane des Douaniers. With its maritime atmosphere and the peaceful yet vibrant colors of the blue-green waters, it seems a fitting choice for a Vero Beach collection. And, as a masterpiece from one of the world’s most beloved artists, it certainly fits the theme of “Hidden Treasures.” 

Indeed, the VBMA exhibition provides an intriguing glimpse into the world of art collecting—a world that is varied, wide, and wonderful.

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