Jan van Eyck Masterpiece Unveiled at Speed Art Museum

  • LOUISVILLE, Kentucky
  • /
  • June 21, 2016

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Jan van Eyck (Netherlandish, about 1395 - 1441) and workshop. Virgin and Child with Saints and Donor, about 1441-43. Oil on panel. On loan from The Frick Collection, New York L2016.25
Photo credit: The Frick Collection

The Speed Art Museum is thrilled to unveil a special, surprise loan to the Museum. Jan van Eyck’s Virgin and Child with Saints and Donor (1441-43) is on exclusive loan to the Speed through early September from the Frick Collection in New York.

The van Eyck was unveiled for public viewing on Tuesday, June 21 at the Speed Art Museum.  Following a teaser campaign on Snapchat (username: speedartmuseum) and other in-museum hints, the painting is now displayed in Gallery 14 at the entrance to the European and American permanent collection galleries.  

“We are so excited to showcase this important piece of art, even if it is for a brief period,” said Ghislain d’Humieres, CEO of the Speed Art Museum. “This is a rare opportunity to see a masterwork of this quality up close, and we hope many visitors will take advantage of this unique and exciting experience.”

The Speed Museum recently lent Anthony van Dyck’s Portrait of a Woman (1640) to the Frick Collection for their groundbreaking exhibition, Van Dyck: The Anatomy of Portraiture. The Speed’s painting was considered to be a highlight of that show. In return, the Frick Collection is sharing their van Eyck with the Speed Art Museum.

The Speed, which reopened in March 2016, was closed for three years for a major $60 million renovation and expansion which doubles the square footage of the original museum and triples exhibition space. "The new Speed is a true hub of creativity where art from the around the world is available for all,” said d’Humieres. “The van Eyck joins our other notable works, including our Rembrandt, Monet and others, and truly hits home that the new Speed is the ultimate experience where art from the around the world invites and inspires people to experience the power of creativity."

Jan van Eyck was the most famous member of a family of painters from the town of Liege, Belgium. Other famous works by van Eyck include The Arnolfini Wedding in the National Gallery in London (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arnolfini_Portrait) and the Ghent Altarpiece (featured in the George Clooney movie, “The Monuments Men.”) The Ghent Altarpiece was looted by the Nazis in World War II and eventually returned to Belgium after the war. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghent_Altarpiece)

Jan van Eyck is one of the most important painters of the late medieval period in Europe. He was literate, and signed and dated many of his pictures, which was highly unusual at that time. He was one of the first artists to master the medium of oil paint, and his skill at rendering surfaces, light effects and highlights, and clinical approach to capturing detail made him widely famous. He employed workshop assistants who made exact copies, variations and pastiches of his completed paintings, supplying a vigorous demand for his work on the open market while contributing to the recognition of his name throughout Europe.

About the Painting:

The Virgin Mary stands, holding the Christ Child. She is attended by Saint Barbara, with her attribute of the tower in which she was imprisoned rising behind her, and St. Elizabeth of Hungary, who gave up her crown to become a nun. A kneeling Carthusian monk, Jan Vos, is also present. The painting was commissioned as a memorial to Jan Vos, and was dedicated on September 3, 1443.

The painting was begun by van Eyck in 1441. He died at age 46, before he could finish it, and his workshop assistants completed the painting.

A look at the new Speed Art Museum

The new 62,500 sq. ft. North Building is largely transparent and creates one of the finest experiential art museums in the country. It doubles the museum’s overall square footage and nearly triples the gallery space from the existing wing.

The expansion creates a new state-of-the-art space for larger special exhibitions, contemporary art galleries, a Kentucky gallery, a family education and welcome center, cinema, indoor/outdoor café, museum store, and a multifunctional Grand Hall for performances, lectures and entertaining. Additionally, the new Elizabeth P. and Frederick K. Cressman Art Park and public piazza will feature creative artworks created specifically for the Speed Museum, that will engage University of Louisville students and museum visitors alike. The Art Park will give the thousands of students who walk past the Speed each day on the adjoining UofL Belknap Campus the ability to mingle with great art, creativity and architecture.

The total expansion effort encompasses approximately 220,000 sq. ft., including 79,600 sq. ft. of renovation, 75,000 sq. ft. of new construction, and 135,000 sq. ft. of landscape improvements.

Internationally renowned museum designer Kulapat Yantrasast of Los Angeles-based wHY created the design in association with K. Norman Berry Associates of Louisville.

Thanks to a gift of $1 million from the Brown-Forman Corporation, the Speed offers free Sunday admission until 2021. The free Sunday admission to the Speed Art Museum is called “Owsley Sundays” in honor of Owsley Brown II, who as CEO of Brown-Forman from 1993 to 2005, led the company’s transformation into a truly global company, continuing his family’s legacy of building Brown-Forman from generation to generation.

Louisville philanthropist Hattie Bishop Speed founded the Speed Art Museum in 1925 with a belief in the power of art to change people’s lives. The Speed’s first building was designed by Louisville-based architect Arthur Loomis and opened in 1927; new structures were added in 1957, 1972, 1983 and 1996. 

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