BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
Philippe de Montebello, longtime Director of the Metropolitan Museum and surely one of the most illustrious figures in the art world, spoke at the annual Old Masters Society dinner and lecture on December 7 benefiting The Art Institute of Chicago. Speaking on “The Life of a Work of Art,” he charmed all who attended the sold out event, chaired by Todd Schwebel and Susan and Harlow Higinbotham. De Montebello, the chairs, and Art Institute Director, James Rondeau, first welcomed the 200 guests to a VIP reception featuring Oysters Rockefeller.
Laura de Frise, President of the OMS, joined the event chairs and Gloria Groom, Chairman of European Painting and Sculpture, in inviting de Montebello to the podium. To Laura, the 500-member Art Institute affiliate group’s annual dinner brings home its purpose.
“The Old Masters Society supports European Painting and Sculpture at the Art Institute and we will be 40 years old in 2017. We share a passion for the art of Europe from the 13th to the early 20th century. The December dinner is an annual celebration, and each year we invite a distinguished speaker. OMS board member Todd Schwebel and Philippe are close friends, so we jumped at the opportunity when Todd suggested bringing Philippe to Chicago. Everyone was thrilled.”
Princesse Beatrice de Bourbon des Deux Siciles, Kimberly and Steven C. Rockefeller, Jr. (with son Christian), and Dr. Susan Kendall were among the out of town guests—all close friends of the Higinbothams and all members of the American Friends of Versailles, who enthusiastically joined the Art Institute and the OMS following the event. The American Friends of Versailles was started by Chicagoan Catharine Hamilton and is known for its glamorous and global membership.
Former Art Institute Director, Douglas Druick; AIC Curators past and present, including Martha Wolf, Suzanne McCullagh, Gloria Groom, Christopher Monkhouse and Jonathan Tavares; Art Institute Life Trustee Julius Lewis; and Trustee Jim Bay with his wife Laurie, OMS Director and out-going Program Chair, revered for her OMS leadership.
“With James Rondeau, our current President and Eloise W. Martin Director of the Museum, and Douglas Druick, our immediate past-President, attending our dinner along with our four curators, there was a true sense of scholarship and respect amongst such a distinguished group. Our members love to learn a lot and they did,” noted Laura de Frise.
Other Art Institute supporters and collectors attended, including Vicky and George Ranney, Judy Block, Liz Stiffel, Alison de Frise, Gabriela and Dwight Cleveland, Judy and Jim Pierpont, Matthew Smith, Lynda and Scott Canel, Chip Mottier, Philip Vidal, Nancy and Richard Spain, Jim and Dick Almeida, Connie and David Coolidge, and Leslie and Tom Kennedy.
With a nod to De Montebello’s Napoleonic ancestry, a delicious Beef Wellington was served following his talk on the many incongruous chapters a work of art takes across the course of history against the vicissitudes of war, famine, and flood. Having been in Florence at the time of the great flood of 1966, he spoke movingly of seeing the damage done to so many treasures, including Lorenzo Ghilberti’s Gates of Paradise.
Philippe’s family friend and Murray Bay summerhouse neighbor, Todd Schwebel, hosted Philippe on his rare visit to Chicago. Fueled by Todd’s cassoulet, they were reportedly barnstorming across Chicago, visiting Oriental Institute Director, Gil Stein, and touring the Institute; lunching and taking in The Centennial Show at The Arts Club; and then heading to The Art Institute for an afternoon of research for The History of Culture & Museums course Philippe teaches, which he inaugurated at NYU following his retirement from the Met.
Everyone agreed an “Evening with Philippe” was a triumph for The Old Masters Society, The Art Institute of Chicago, and the city of Chicago itself; all of whom were delighted to welcome this very distinguished visitor.
Laura de Frise invites all to learn more about the Old Masters Society:
“Whether you are a student, scholar, museum professional, collector, or art enthusiast, anyone can easily join directly through the Art Institute website’s ‘Join and Give’ link or by phoning the OMS at 312-443-3615. Members enjoy access to programs, trips, and social events. Our programming includes exhibition previews, receptions, dinner and luncheon lectures by distinguished scholars, and trips to museums and private collections both in the United States and abroad. Members are also treated to exclusive behind-the-scenes tours and unique insights from Art Institute curators.”