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Detroit Institute of Arts Given over $15 Million in Art by Josephine F. Ford Estate

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Picasso, Renoir, Degas and Matisse among stars to join stellar collection

February 15, 2006 (Detroit)—Imagine having a Picasso in your living room, a Degas in your dining room, or a Renoir in your bedroom. Works by these and other great artists adorned the home of the late Josephine F. Ford, one of the Detroit Institute of Arts’ (DIA) most ardent benefactors. Now, thanks to Ford’s extraordinary generosity, works by Picasso, Degas, Renoir, Matisse, Chagall and Modigliani, along with an 18th-century American chest of drawers now call the DIA home. The artworks, valued at over $15 million, are gifts from Ford’s estate. Ford died on June 1 last year.

“We at the museum cannot say enough about Mrs. Ford’s generosity and longtime support,” said Graham W. J. Beal, DIA director. “Her love of the museum has repeatedly been demonstrated by the significant contribution of funds and works of art, from one of Vincent van Gogh’s most renowned works, Portrait of Postman Roulin, to this remarkable gift from her estate. Mrs. Ford’s legacy will always live on at the DIA, and we applaud her decision to share these works of art with the public.”

Ford had a long history of patronage and service to the DIA. In addition to donations of art and major support for the museum’s capital campaigns, Ford had served on the Arts Commission and the museum’s board of directors.

“Josephine Ford was one of our most dedicated patrons during her lifetime,” said Eugene A. Gargaro, DIA chairman of the board, “and this remarkable gift of art is a lasting testament of her devotion to the Detroit Institute of Arts. We are once again truly grateful for her generosity.”

            The gift includes:

Pablo Picasso, Girl Reading, 1938.

This work is almost certainly a portrait of Picasso’s lover during these years, the Argentinean Dora Maar. Maar and Picasso met in 1936 in Paris; she was already a well-known photographer, and he was beginning work on the landmark painting Guernica. She photographed the creation of the painting and during their relationship he painted her portrait many times. The most striking feature of the twisted profile pose is the view of both of her eyes and her nostrils from the front, with the nose itself in profile. This compressed and flattened image of the face is characteristic of Picasso’s work of the 1930s.

Edgar Degas, Seated Nude Woman Brushing Her Hair, c. 1890–1900.

Degas used the theme of a nude female wiping or brushing her cascade of hair in nearly 50 drawings. A combination of soft black, white, blue, brown, and tan strokes of charcoal and pastel with touches of pink on this sheet of dusty blue gray paper create subtle but profound dimension of color in this drawing.

Henri Matisse, Anemones and Peach Blossoms, 1944.

This work was created in the last stage of Matisse’s life, when he was working in Nice, which had become something of an artists’ colony during the war years. This lovely still life of spring flowers combines large areas of brilliant color in the blue, orange, and yellow of the wall, wainscoting and tiled floor, with blossoms drawn in quick strokes and highlighted by areas of unpainted canvas. The exploration of color and pattern were Matisse’s greatest interest.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Coco, c. 1905.

This sweet and delicate portrait is of the artist’s third son, Claude, born in 1901. Renoir’s children were often the subjects of his art. In this painting, the child’s face is emphasized by the cloud of color around his head and the sketchy treatment of the body and background compared with the finely painted facial features.

Marc Chagall, The Green Circus Rider, 1961.

Chagall, a Russian artist, moved to Paris around the turn of the century and fell in with the most avant-garde artists and writers of the time. He was forced to return to Russia during World War I but came back to the stimulating atmosphere of Paris after 1920 and moved to New York before World War II began. During his career, his style remained relatively constant: brilliant, jewel-like colors applied to delicate, weightless figures. The figures in his paintings were often taken from Russian folk tales and legends, lending the works a dream-like air. Images of the circus, filled with motion and light, were an enduring subject.

Amedeo Modigliani, Girl in a White Blouse, c. 1915.

In Modigliani’s relatively brief career, he painted numerous studies of friends and acquaintances. His singularly recognizable style, based in part on his study of sculpture from ancient cultures, emphasizes an elongated figure, with a delicate oval face and columnar neck, yet still produce a likeness of the subject.

Low Chest (Dressing Table), c. 1770, Unknown artist.

This low chest of drawers represents the height of American woodworking in this period. It is distinguished by its exuberant carving specifically on the knees of the legs and the central "fan" drawer. It stands apart from most Philadelphia low chests through the addition of the decorative fretwork applied just below the top.

The works will undergo a “check-up” in the DIA’s conservation lab, and many will be incorporated into the museum’s reinstallation plans for 2007.

Hours and Admissions

Museum hours are 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 10 a.m.–9 p.m. Fridays, and 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Admission is a donation. We recommend $6 for adults and $3 for children. DIA members are admitted free. For membership information call 313-833-7971.


The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), one of the premier art museums in the United States, is home to more than 60,000 works that comprise a multicultural survey of human creativity from ancient times through the 21st century. From the first van Gogh painting to enter a U.S. museum (Self Portrait, 1887), to Diego Rivera's world-renowned Detroit Industry murals (1932–33), the DIA's collection is known for its quality, range, and depth.

Currently, the DIA is presenting a dynamic schedule of programs and activities for all ages, even as the museum’s building is undergoing a major renovation. Visitors can enjoy some of the DIA’s “greatest hits” while the museum prepares for an entirely new installation when renovations are completed in late 2007.

Programs are made possible with support from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and the City of Detroit.