Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Walters Art Museum announces Russian enamels bequest- finest pieces from U.S. private collection

The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore has announced the gift of enameled Russian silver bequeathed by Jean Montgomery Riddell. This collection is comprised of more than 260 objects from the 17th through early 20th centuries. Riddell, who passed away in 2010 at the age of 100, was a Washington, D.C. patron of the arts. Her collection was internationally recognized and ranked as the finest of its kind in the United States. Although she was particularly interested in Moscow enamels of the late 19th and the early 20th centuries, her bequest also includes important additions to the Walters holdings of works from the firm of Carl Fabergé in St. Petersburg. 

“We are honored that the Walters has been entrusted with this extraordinary collection of Russian enamels,” said Walters Director Gary Vikan. “Jean Riddell believed that with our existing holdings of russian art and our commitment to past exhibitions in the field, the Walters would make a great home for her collection.” 

Firm of Pavel Ovchinnikov, Russian (Moscow), Tankard, 1888–96, silver gilt, filigree and plique-á-jour enamel, Bequest of Mrs. Jean M. Riddell, 2010, The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore. 

Among Jean Riddell’s admirers was Susan Kaplan Jacobson of Leo Kaplan Ltd., whose family firm was for many years a major purveyor of Moscow enamels. In particular, she remembers Mrs. Riddell for her unassuming manner, which belied her wealth, and her varied interests, including flying airplanes. 

Likewise, Paul Schaffer of the venerable New York firm of A La Vieille Russie, which traces its roots to Kiev in 1851, fondly recalls Jean Riddell’s visits. “Her achievement as a collector was truly exceptional. She was focused in her objectives and with her keen mind and rare determination, she assembled the premier collection of Russian enamels in the country.” 

Moscow silversmiths employed a range of enameling techniques seen in the Riddell Collection, but their most distinctive method was filigree—a variation on cloisonné in which twisted wires rather than flat strips of metal are used to separate the colors. The wires project from the surfaces rather than lying flat as in cloisonné. Often the sections within the wires were filled with enamel painted in different colors, another distinctive trait known as “shaded enamel.” 

Riddell used the funds that she had inherited from her grandfather John Wildi, the first producer of evaporated milk, to support the National Ballet Company and the Paul Hill Chorale in Washington, D.C. She had studied with Thomas Benton at the Arts Students League in New York and later met her husband, Richard J. Riddell, at the American Embassy in Budapest where her father, John Montgomery, served as Franklin Roosevelt’s ambassador to Hungary from 1933 to 1941. Jean Riddell became interested in Russian enamels in 1966 when she inherited some examples from her husband. 

To share these new acquisitions with the public in the future, the Walters is developing an exhibition for spring 2015, which will also tour. Currently there are 12 pieces on view on the 4th floor of the Centre Street Building. Highlights include a filigree enamel tankard inspired by a 17th-century Turkish prototype from the Kremlin Armory and a beaker with remarkable plique-à-jour enamel—a design outlined in metal and filled with colored enamels without a backing, creating a stained glass effect.

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