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Frick Collection Names Mary L. Levkoff Winner of Biennial Book Prize

The Frick’s Center for the History of Collecting has awarded Mary L. Levkoff its Sotheby’s Book Prize for a Distinguished Publication on the History of Collecting in America for her critically acclaimed 2008 monograph Hearst the Collector (Abrams and Los Angeles County Museum of Art).

Comments Frick Director Ian Wardropper, “Since its inception at the Frick Art Reference Library four years ago, the Center for the History of Collecting has fostered a high-level of discourse through fellowships, research tools, and symposia. Simultaneously the history of collecting art has found acceptance as a formal academic field, and we are very proud to play a role in that development. The Center’s book prize further strengthens this area of study by acknowledging—and perhaps inspiring—relevant new publications, and we are grateful to Sotheby’s for supporting this vital program. We offer sincere congratulations to author Mary Levkoff for her wonderfully researched publication and look forward to presenting the award to her formally at a reception hosted at The Frick Collection on December 6.”

A voracious collector, William Randolph Hearst (1863–1951) is well known as one of the most powerful men in American culture and politics during the first half of the twentieth century. In part, because of the extravagance of his most famous surviving residence at San Simeon, California, and also because of the exaggerated portrayal of Hearst in the 1941 film Citizen Kane, even specialists have trouble separating the man from the myth. In Hearst the Collector, Mary Levkoff offers a measured and scholarly analysis of this complex personality, in order to gain a deeper understanding of his motives and activities in acquiring art. The result is a nuanced portrayal of a man who is far from the caricature that has been handed down to us through popular culture. Levkoff successfully reconstituted the best of a vast collection that was largely dispersed during a financial crisis that occurred in 1937, and argued that, were it still seen intact, it would be appreciated both for its logic and its masterpieces. The book is beautifully produced and includes an exemplary catalogue of some of those great works of art now found in the Louvre, the Musées Royaux of Belgium, the J. Paul Getty Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the British Royal Armories, the Israel Museum, and a number of other significant institutions in the United States and Europe. Adds Inge Reist, Director of the Center for the History of Collecting, “This book treats its larger-than-life subject with objectivity and depth. Mary Levkoff used a tremendous amount of archival material to present a thoughtful view of Hearst as more discerning than previously believed. By isolating superb examples from Hearst holdings, the author has reinstated him as a major figure on the American collecting scene, worth studying for the quality of the works he bought as well as the quantity. Admirable, too, is the way in which she establishes the context, both familial and cultural, for the development of Hearst’s interest in acquiring art.”

Mary L. Levkoff
A native of Miami Beach, Mary L. Levkoff is an internationally recognized authority on both French Renaissance sculpture and Rodin, with a background in architectural history. She has degrees from Princeton University and NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts. Levkoff received her curatorial training at The Metropolitan Museum of Art with the late Olga Raggio, and lived in Paris for six years before joining the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1989, where she was curator of European sculpture for nineteen years, taking on responsibility for ancient Greek and Roman art in 2003. In 2009 she became head of the department of sculpture and decorative arts at the National Gallery of Art, a post previously held by Nicholas Penny. One of the most versatile scholars in her field, Levkoff is not only the author of Hearst the Collector but also of Rodin in his Time: The Cantor Gifts to LACMA (Thames & Hudson, 1994; 2nd edition, Rizzoli, 2000) and several studies on French Renaissance art published under the auspices of the Louvre, the Musée national de la Renaissance, and the École du Louvre. She is a member of the Société de l’Histoire de l’Art français. Levkoff contributed to the exhibition catalogue The Currency of Fame: Portrait Medals of the Renaissance (co-organized by the National Gallery of Art at The Frick Collection) and was an outside reader for the Gallery’s systematic catalogue of decorative arts. She contributed numerous entries to the Dictionary of Early Modern Europe and the Encyclopedia of Sculpture, which includes her synopsis of the career of Andrea Riccio. Co-organizer of the exhibition The Hands of Rodin, host-curator of Spanish Polychrome Sculpture in United States Collections and Rodin’s Monument to Victor Hugo (all, LACMA), Levkoff organized the wide-ranging exhibition Hearst the Collector that took place at LACMA from November 2008 through January 2009. In addition to a focused article on Hearst’s superb collection of Greek and Roman art (APOLLO, October 2008), her 2009 lecture on Hearst’s taste for Spanish art will be published under the auspices of the Frick’s Center for the History of Collecting. Her most recent assessment of Hearst’s achievements was presented in the symposium “L’Oeil du Connoisseur” organized by the École du Louvre (October, 2011). Levkoff served on the Art and Artifacts Indemnity Advisory Panel of the National Endowment for the Arts in 2005–8. She was a member of the Comité scientifique for the 2009 colloquium on French Renaissance sculpture sponsored by France’s Institut national d’Histoire de l’Art.

Nominations for the 2011 Sotheby’s Prize for a Distinguished Publication on the History of Collecting in America were requested from a range of art world specialists, with the goal of recognizing works of scholarly excellence that contribute to this field of research. Volumes were eligible if published in the last ten years and focused on collecting in any category of the fine and decorative arts, Western or non-Western, from Colonial times to the present. Judging criteria included originality of research, contributions to the study of the history of art and culture, and whether the book sets the activity of art collecting within a broader cultural, social, economic, or political context.

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