SAN DIEGO — A Newport Beach businesswoman has given the San Diego Museum of Art one of the three largest and most important private collections of artwork by 19th-Century French painter and lithographer Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
Maruja Baldwin-Hodges donated the 98-piece Baldwin M. Baldwin Collection to the museum, including three complete series of lithographs and posters by the famed turn-of-the-century artist. Baldwin-Hodges assembled the collection with her late husband, Baldwin M. Baldwin.
"The collection really vaults the museum forward in terms of its collections on a national and international scale," museum Director Steven L. Brezzo said Tuesday, noting that the gift is "one of the finest collections of Toulouse-Lautrec in private hands."
Consisting of lithographs, posters, drawings and two oil paintings, the Baldwin collection amounts to almost one-third of Toulouse-Lautrec's output of 368 prints and posters, said Nora Desloge, the museum's curator of European art.
"There were three outstanding private collections of his graphic work: one in Berlin, the Schimmel collection in New York and the Baldwin collection," Desloge said.
The centerpiece of the collection, Brezzo said, is the complete "Elles" series, 11 lithographs of life in a Parisian brothel. Besides "Elles," the collection includes a complete "Cafe Concert" series of 11 lithographs showing the jugglers, chanteuses and dancers who performed in cabarets.
The gift makes Toulouse-Lautrec one of the museum's featured artists, Desloge said.
"We had about 20 prints and no paintings," she said. "This collection brings us two important paintings and eight drawings. It's substantial."
It is also valuable--beyond the museum's financial reach, museum officials said. A Toulouse-Lautrec print from the "Elles" series recently sold for $100,000 in New York, Desloge said.
"These days, with Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art reaching record prices--even on paper--this is remarkable for us," she said.
Toulouse-Lautrec died in 1904 at the age of 36, an alcoholic whose output of more than 5,000 drawings and 737 canvases was largely unacknowledged. But his distinct style soon elevated posters to a legitimate art form.
"Lautrec is considered the pivotal moment when the poster takes on significance beyond mere advertising, when it takes on an importance in itself," Brezzo said.
The Baldwin collection includes a complete set of the 30 posters Toulouse-Lautrec produced for Paris cabarets and cafes.
Baldwin-Hodges helped her late husband collect the art created by the severely crippled painter, whose works depict bohemian life in turn-of-the-century Paris.
"It's a period that is not the Old Masters or the Impressionists like Pisarro or Monet or Manet," Baldwin-Hodges said. "It was a period of transition. The contemporary art came from Lautrec, with its bold line and bold colors.
"The subjects are difficult subjects, but you are looking at those pictures (of prostitutes) through the eyes of an artist. It is just a part of life."
Baldwin-Hodges, a former fashion model from Costa Rica, and her husband moved to Newport Beach in 1954. Her husband, the grandson of mining millionaire E. J. (Lucky) Baldwin, had a collection of about 50 Toulouse-Lautrecs when they married, she said.
A leading Southern California art collector and international yachtsman, Baldwin headed a corporation that developed the Baldwin Hills Village in Los Angeles. He died in 1970.
Baldwin-Hodges declined to reveal either her age or the date of her marriage to Baldwin, saying that "they are not important to the art."
Now married to Dr. George Hodges, Baldwin-Hodges manages her late husband's estate. She wanted to place the Toulouse-Lautrec collection in the Newport Harbor Art Museum, but that proved impossible because Newport Beach did not have the facilities, she said.
Newport Harbor Museum director Kevin Consey agreed.
"Our museum deals with post-1945 art," Consey said in a telephone interview. "At the time Maruja offered the collection to us--seven or eight years ago--we had just completed a building drive. It would have been necessary to mount another drive for a building to house the collection.
"We believe the collection is very fine," he said. "San Diego is lucky to get it."
Desloge said the San Diego Museum of Art will exhibit the Baldwin collection this fall.