‘O, what a delightful little picture’

December 4, 2011 § 1 Comment

Blackberries | Raphaelle Peale | de Young Museum, San Francisco

Many of the finest treasures in San Francisco’s de Young Museum, including this small still life, came from the Rockefeller Collection of American Art, donated by Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller III. A passage on page 17 of the Rockefeller catalog describes the unusual grading system they used to buy works of art.

“The Rockefellers … used a gradually developed classification system to rank candidates for purchase — A, B, C, D, X and O. The last two categories were evolved to deal with surprises, the `X’ label was for rare works of extraordinary attractiveness by little-known artists, the `O’ rank was given to exquisite, small-scale works that, no matter what the artist’s fame, generated sufficient pleasure to prompt exclamation, `O, what a delightful little picture!'”

The catalog notes that works from the last two classifications are crucial in giving the Rockefeller collection its personal, idiosyncratic flavor — what one scholar called its “note of individual taste and connoisseurship, and a love of the arts for their own sake, independent of fame or price.”

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