Home Dealers Calendar Articles Fine Art Database About AFA Login/Register
Home | Articles | Museum Focus: Long Beach Museum of Art

Fig. 1: Long Beach Museum of Art, Long Beach, CA. Courtesy of Long Beach Museum of Art; photography by Greg Page.

The first thing most people remark on when visiting the Long Beach Museum of Art is the magnificent location—a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean about twenty-five miles south of Los Angeles. The captivating venue includes a new exhibition pavilion and historic home and carriage house built in 1912 by Elizabeth Milbank Anderson, a wealthy philanthropist from the East Coast who liked to spend summers in California. Following a number of incarnations—a beach club, a chief petty officer’s club during World War II, and a residence—the City of Long Beach purchased the property in 1950 for use as a Municipal Art
Fig. 3: Desk and bookcase, Boston, MA, ca. 1765. Mahogany and white pine. Overall H. 100 in. (with finials); Desk: H. 43, W. 40, D. 23 1/2 in.; Bookcase: H. 50, W. 38 1/4, D. 12 in. Courtesy of Long Beach Museum of Art; promised gift of Victor Gail and Thomas H. Oxford; photography by Steve Tague.

Center. In 1957, the museum was established in recognition of the city’s growing permanent collection (Fig. 1).

Newly reopened in late 2000, following an ambitious restoration and construction project that completely transformed the campus, the museum’s artistic and educational programs have been refocused as well. Installing the vast Gail-Oxford Collection, a promised gift, was central to this new direction. Acclaimed as one of the finest collections of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century American and European decorative arts on the West Coast, the Gail-Oxford Collection includes more than 300 examples of furniture, paintings, and objects—ceramics, silver, pewter and brass, needlework, and tapestries—assembled over a thirty-five-year period, primarily from Southern California sources (Fig. 2).

Rarely seen or published, the collection is outstanding in the way that highly significant pieces from Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania, including superb examples of early Philadelphia cabinetmaking, have been carefully selected for their beauty, craftsmanship, and compatibility with each other.

Fig. 2: Posset pot, British, ca. 1720–1740. Tin-glazed earthenware. H. 7 1/2 in. Courtesy of Long Beach Museum of Art; promised gift of Victor Gail and Thomas H. Oxford; photography by Greg Page.

Among the many highlights of the collection is a Boston block-front mahogany desk and bookcase, circa 1765 (Fig. 3). An extraordinary example of eighteenth-century Boston cabinetmaking, this piece exhibits a sweeping verticality, a broken-scroll, or “swan’s neck,” pediment ending in intricately carved rosettes, handsome fluted pilasters, and arched panel doors made of richly figured mahogany. Several important inscriptions relate the history of its ownership. “T. Greenleaf 1804 Harvard College” is inscribed on the left and right sides of a lid support. Also, “Frances James Child Oct. 1847,” “Susan Wesson,” and two monograms appear on the drawers. The desk and bookcase was acquired from a California descendent of William Greenleaf (1724/25–1803)—a Boston merchant, sheriff of Suffolk County (MA) from 1775 to 1780, an ardent Whig, and the father of fifteen children.

Fig. 4: Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866–1944), An Arabesque, 1938. Oil on canvas, 36 1/4 x 25 5/8 inches. Courtesy of Long Beach Museum of Art; The Milton Wichner Collection.

In addition to the American decorative arts, the museum’s permanent collection has strengths in early-twentieth-century European art, California modernism, and contemporary art (Fig. 4). Playing on these strengths, it’s not unusual to see interdisciplinary exhibitions that show paintings and sculpture beside functional and decorative art objects of the same period—an approach that makes objects and works of art more engaging and enlightening to visitors. For example, works by California painters, contemporary artists, and the Russian avant-garde—including Kandinsky and Jawlensky—are exhibited alongside furniture, ceramics, metalwork, and glass of their time.

For information about the Long Beach Museum of Art, visit www.lbma.org or call 562.439.2119, ext. 228. Selections of fine and decorative arts from the Gail-Oxford Collection will be part of the fall 2002 exhibition Simple Gifts: American Folk Art from Southern California Collections. On view through September 9, 2001, is Imps on a Bridge: Wedgwood Fairyland and Other Lustres. Read more about the show in this issue’s Curator’s Choice.

Jeri Vaughn is Director of Marketing and Public Relations at the Long Beach Museum of Art.

Antiques and Fine Art is the leading site for antique collectors, designers, and enthusiasts of art and antiques. Featuring outstanding inventory for sale from top antiques & art dealers, educational articles on fine and decorative arts, and a calendar listing upcoming antiques shows and fairs.