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St. Vincent gallery to feature 150 pieces of seldom-seen artwork

An exhibit of what gallery director Brother Nathan Cochran believes may be the oldest collection of art in Pennsylvania opens tonight at the St. Vincent Gallery at St. Vincent College, near Latrobe.

For the past 150 years, most of it has been stored and seldom seen, and Cochran predicts that visitors will be impressed with what they see in this first-time show.

“People are going to be surprised with what we have,” he said.

Many of the 150 pieces in “That Which Is Beautiful” were gifts from King Ludwig I of Bavaria, a friend of St. Vincent founder Boniface Wimmer and a benefactor to the archabbey.

Ludwig, crowned in 1825, reopened the Benedictine monasteries that had been suppressed by Napoleon. Wimmer, one of the monks, won the king’s support to establish a religious community to serve the frontier people of southwestern Pennsylvania.

Ludwig provided financial support as well as sending vestments, chalices, books and, in 1853, a collection of 300 pieces of art. Some of the best, plus more recent acquisitions, are now hanging to mark the collection’s 150-year anniversary.

The exhibit title comes from Wimmer’s writing that the college students should have “first, what is necessary, then what is useful and finally that which is beautiful and will contribute to their refinement.”

Cochran describes the collection as “a walking history of art.”

“It goes from Roman and Greek artifacts-mostly pottery and jewelry-to pre-Columbian artifacts, such as an incensor, small altar and ceramics from Central America,” he said. “We have a medieval manuscript and works representing every century from the 17th century to the present.”

“The Vision of St. Jerome” is the most significant piece from the Baroque period. It was painted in 1629 by Johan Liss, a German artist who moved to Italy.

“There are only two other Johan Liss paintings in the country besides ours,” Cochran said. “One is in the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., and the other is in Cleveland.”

There is an engraving by Rembrandt, and lithographs by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, and a lithograph of a poster by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

“He was really the one to develop the lithographic process and poster art,” Cochran said.

Other notable artists in the collection include Pierre Bonnard, Mark Chagall, Salvator Meo, Georges Rouault, Richard Ruben, Fernand Leger, Isabella Markell, Aristed Maillol, Victor Hammer, Maurice de Vlaminck, Johann Loth and Diego Velazquez.

One of the 19th-century artists, Frank Duveneck, studied art with Brother Cosmas Wolfe at St. Vincent and left behind a boldly signed “Immaculate Conception” that he painted at the age of 16. In the 1870s to 1880s, he built a reputation as a great American Impressionist.

“Artist John Singer Sargent called Duveneck the greatest American to have picked up the paint brush,” Cochran said. “So we have one of his earliest paintings known to exist, one from an unknown period of his life.”

More contemporary pieces are by Andrew Wyeth, and local artists Bud Gibson, Nancy Galm, Ray Defazio and Mary Martha Himler, who taught at Greater Latrobe High School and who was one of the founders of the school’s art collection.

There’s a lithograph of Heinz beans done by Paul Warhola, brother of Andy Warhol, and a print by Mary Hamilton, who lives north of Pittsburgh. Hamilton is known for her bright wood cuts, and some have been made into greeting cards. The one at St. Vincent Gallery, “At Home: Other Animals, Other Lands,” features dogs, lizards, birds and foxes in her colorful style.

Helen Siegel, another represented artist, lives near Philadelphia. She is widely known for her wood cuts of religious themes that often appear in liturgical publications.

Some works belonged to monks or faculty, were purchased from contemporary artists who had shows at the gallery, or were gifts to the college. An alumnus donated the original “Centennial Farm” by Canadian artist Robert Bateman, whose work is often reproduced in limited edition prints.

Some of the pieces were in previous shows, or were hung in other parts of the college and archabbey. This is the first time that so many have been shown together because there is no permanent place for them. Cochran hopes that future plans will provide space in the gallery for a rotating exhibit, and eventually a fine arts center.

“People just don’t realize how big the collection is, and how good it is,” he said.

Additional Information:

Details

‘That Which Is Beautiful’

When: Through Dec. 7.

Opening reception: 6:30-8:30 p.m. today

Hours: Noon-3 p.m. and 6:30-8:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays; noon-3 p.m. Fridays-Sundays; closed Mondays and Nov. 26-30

Where: St. Vincent Gallery, Carey Student Center, St. Vincent College, near Latrobe

Admission: Free

Info: 724-805-2107


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