The Bloch Family Foundation will finance a nearly two-year, $11.7 million renovation at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art designed to house an expanded impressionist and post-impressionist collection.
The new space will bring into public view 29 works from the personal collection of Henry and Marion Bloch, a gift of paintings promised by the family in 2010 in connection with the museum’s 75th anniversary.
Work will begin this summer to reconfigure the museum’s impressionism and post-impressionism galleries in the original Nelson-Atkins building. The Bloch’s world-class collection will be integrated into the museum’s existing collection on the main floor northeast of Kirkwood Hall.
The Bloch foundation will announce today that it will pay for the redesign as well as give the artwork earlier than once expected.
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“It’s a case of two plus two equals five,” said Philippe de Montebello, former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, who has consulted on the Bloch gift.
“Too often, gifts of wonderful works of art are accompanied by no money, (giving) short shrift to presentation of the gift,” de Montebello said. “Providing funds for the restoration shows a very high level of enlightenment on the part of Henry Bloch and his family.”
When completed in the spring of 2017, the addition of the Bloch collection will more than double the number of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings typically on display at the Nelson-Atkins.
“They’ll be much happier in the museum, hanging among other paintings by the same artists,” Henry Bloch said. “I had originally imagined this gift in the future, but I am so happy to support it happening now…Planning this renovation project has given me and my family a great deal of joy.”
In a Nelson-Atkins video taken several years ago, Bloch talked about some of his interesting trips taken to acquire pieces in the collection, often requiring Midwestern persistence and ingenuity. But the family emphasizes that it now is happy to give the art to the museum. Marion Bloch died in 2013.
No total value has been put on the Bloch collection, which includes works by such luminaries as Manet, Monet, Gaugin, Cézanne, Degas and van Gogh. But when similar individual pieces are sold at auction, the price for any one of them typically runs to seven or eight figures.
The gift also includes works by Renoir, Pissaro, Morisot, Sisley, Bonnard, Matisse, Boudin, Caillebotte, Redon, Seurat, Signac, Toulouse-Lautrec and Vuillard.
The Blochs acquired the paintings over a period of about 20 years, advised by former Nelson-Atkins director Ted Coe. Another former Nelson-Atkins director, Marc Wilson, also consulted on the gift and its integration with the museum’s collection.
The Bloch collection had a temporary public viewing in the summer of 2007, when it was shown during the grand opening of the Bloch Building, the Nelson-Atkin’s addition that was named for the co-founder of the H&R Block Tax company and his wife.
Julian Zugazagoitia, the museum’s director and chief executive, called the Bloch collection and planned remodeling a “transformational gift.”
In a walk-through of the impressionism and post-impressionism space that will have some walls and a hallway removed, Zugazagoitia said the redesign will “create a chronological path from the early 19th century to the early 20th century.”
A “more fluid” floor plan — designed by BNIM architects and built by J.E. Dunn Construction — will “transform the facility to accommodate a richer collection,” Zugazagoitia said.
Steve Waterman, the museum’s director of presentation, said the 9,000-square-foot project area will be reconfigured to add about 121 feet of wall space to allow more paintings to be hung.
“The project’s square footage does not increase, so the real trick is to increase the linear wall feet while making the galleries feel more open and engaging,” Waterman said.
Waterman said the museum typically displays 21 impressionist and post-impressionist works. Plans are not yet finalized to say whether all 29 pieces in the Bloch collection will be immediately on display when the renovated area reopens, but it is expected that all will be showcased at some time.
“Seeing that most every Bloch Collection object will be on view is a testament to the incredible quality of this collection,” Waterman said.
The museum, like most major art museums, has only a fraction of its holdings on display at any one time, although about 80 percent “of our treasures are always on display,” Zugazagoitia said. Most of the Nelson-Atkins collection — particularly prints on paper and photographs — is in storage and rotated out for display.
In addition, there’s a constant sharing of art with other museums around the world. For example, the Nelson-Atkins’ popular painting of “Water Lilies” by Monet will be on loan while the renovation is under way.
Zugazagoitia said he’s urging patrons to visit the impressionist and post-impressionist rooms before they close for remodeling “just to see their favorites before they go away for awhile.”
Also slated to be dismantled and later reassembled at yet-to-be-decided locations are two “period rooms” that also are in the northeast quadrant of the museum. Waterman said the period rooms are “out of sync with the chronology of the surrounding works. We hope to move them one day to where they should go.”
Zugazagoitia and Waterman equated the upcoming renovation to the scale undertaken in the building’s second-floor creation between 2007 and 2009 of the American and American Indian galleries. As with that remodeling, the rest of the museum will be open as usual throughout the process.
What: Two Bloch Family Foundation gifts to The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Why: To renovate the museum’s impressionism and post-impressionism galleries to add 29 works of art from Henry and Marion Bloch’s personal collection
When: Starting in Summer 2015 and reopening in Spring 2017
How much: Renovation gift, $11.7 million; gift of art works, multi-million dollar value not estimated