Amherst Magazine

Have Monet, Will Travel

By Emily Gold Boutilier

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Mead Director Elizabeth Barker escorted Monet’s Morning on the Seine, Giverny (1897), which is part of the museum’s collection, to Madrid.

When great art travels, someone travels with it. So it was that Elizabeth Barker, director and chief curator of the Mead Art Museum, recently escorted an important Monet on a trans-Atlantic journey all the way from Amherst to the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid.

The painting, Morning on the Seine, Giverny, is part of the Mead’s permanent collection. It traveled to the Thyssen to be a part of the show Monet and Abstraction, which runs through May 30. It will also be featured independently in a separate display in the permanent collection galleries at the Thyssen this summer. From there it will travel to Paris for an October-to-January Monet retrospective at the Musée d’Orsay.

Museums typically send a courier to travel with important art, Barker says, to ensure that the work is shipped and installed carefully. Barker first escorted the Monet to Logan Airport in Boston, where it was guarded by Massachusetts state troopers, and then across the Atlantic, where the Spanish National Guard met their flight, and finally to the museum in Madrid, where she oversaw its installation.  

The painting is the bequest of philanthropist Susan Dwight Bliss. Charles Morgan, the first Mead director, writes in his memoir of visiting Bliss at her house. She asked, “Would you like a Monet?” and showed him to an upstairs bedroom so drenched in sun that he could see little more of the painting than the frame. “But he didn’t dare refuse it,” Barker says.

When the oil-on-canvas painting arrived at the Mead, Morgan was staggered to have received such an important work of art—a piece from the 18-canvas series that immediately preceded and influenced the artist’s famous Water
Lilies
series.

Barker took only one sleeping break during her 54 hours with Morning on the Seine, Giverny. Before heading home she visited Madrid’s Convent of the Royal Barefoot Nuns, which holds the original tapestry based on the Rubens painting Charity Enlightening the World, also part of the Mead’s permanent collection.

Mead Art Museum/Stephen Petegorsky photo