At first glance, Frederic C. Hamilton may seem an unlikely fine art aficionado. After all, the philanthropist made his fortune in oil production and real estate, and is a most known for his business-related dealings. A lesser-known fact about Hamilton, who is widely considered to be one of America’s “oil pioneers,” however, is that he has served as Chairman Emeritus of the Denver Art Museum Board of Trustees for nearly three decades.
Recently, Hamilton donated 22 Impressionist landscapes to the Denver Art Museum, in what has become one of the museum’s most exciting new additions to its collection. The collective value of the donation, which came from Hamilton’s private art collection, hasn’t been formally appraised, but experts believe that it could amount to as much as $100 million. The gift is monetarily impressive, but the works by van Gogh and Cezanne are a priceless addition to the Denver Art Museum’s collection, which formerly contained no pieces by the two artists.
Denver Art Museum director Christopher Heinrich describes the magnitude of the donation, explaining how “This is a game-changing gift. […] We will have the biggest collection in the West of Impressionist art,” of what could potentially be the largest gift in the museum’s 120-year history. This is not the first time that Hamilton has donated to the museum; in 2006, he gave $20 million for a major expansion. It is the first time he has promised to donate actual works of art, which the museum will officially take possession of when he dies.
Hamilton is acutely aware of the significant impact this donation will have on the museum, and he justifies it by explaining, “Frankly, our museum is derelict in one significant area, and that is Impressionism.” The 22 artworks will allow the Denver Art Museum the same kind of reputation as world-class fine arts institutions, and as art critic Ray Mark Rinaldi explains, “A museum best known for its contemporary, Native American and Western art now has the responsibility – and possibility – of turning its fledgling Impressionism holdings into a world-class collection.”
Read more about the massive donation here.