Up until now, Utahns who have wanted to feast their eyes on original paintings by Corot, Gainsborough, Fragonard, Van Dyck and Boucher have had to search for them outside the state - and country. But not any more, thanks to a most generous gift of 38 master paintings to the Utah Museum of Fine Arts by Ogden art collector and philanthropist Val A. Browning.
"This is the most important gift of art the museum has yet received," said E. Frank Sanguinetti, director of UMFA.Browning's generosity began 20 years ago when he and the late Mrs. Browning gave the museum the Italian High Renaissance tondo (circular painting) "Virgin with the Christ Child and the Infant St. John" by Jacopo di Domenico Foschi.
Later came another Italian tondo "Holy Family" by Giovanni di Pietro.
Then in 1992, Browning presented the museum with another magnificent gift - "Dance Around the Maypole" by Pieter Brueghel, the Younger (1564-1638). Sanguinetti calls it the "crown jewel of the Browning collection."
Brueghel is not as well known as his father (Pieter Brueghel, the Senior), perhaps because he often copied his father's work or relied heavily on his father's style and subject matter.
"However, he did have independent compositions," Sanguinetti says. "And `Dance Around the Maypole' is one of them."
Painted around 1620, the oil captures peasant traditions and customs during a May Day festival in the Netherlands.
Recently, 18 additional paintings from the Browning collection were presented to the museum. They went on display Saturday in one of UMFA's central galleries, where they will remain until joined by the final paintings in the collection.
Spanning some 500 years of European art, the paintings focus on landscape, still life, harbor scenes, genre and portraiture.
You won't see such famous paintings as Fragonard's "The Bathers," Corot's "Ville d'Avray" and Gainsborough's "The Blue Boy," but you will see highly impressive paintings by these - and other - great masters.
The painting by French painter Jean-Honore Fragonard (1732-1806) that is part of the Browning collection is a portrait titled "Mademoiselle Marie Madeleine Guimard." The artist, a proponent of the Rococo style, often painted courtly fantasies of the 18th century.
Jean Baptiste Camille Corot (1796-1875), a French landscape and figure painter, was one of the transitional artists who began in the early 19th-century traditional style ("Island of San Bartolomeo") and later moved into a more Romantic sensibility ("Ville d'Avray"). The painting in the Browning collection - "Souvenir des Environs de Boissy-Saint-Leger" - is an excellent example of the latter style.
Flemish artist Sir Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641) served as court painter to Charles I of England. Although he is known for his religious and historical Baroque scenes, he is most famous as a portraitist. Fortuitously, the painting included in the Browning collection is a portrait - "Henrik van der Poel."
When most people think of British painter Sir Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788), they think of his famous portrait "Blue Boy," which hangs in the Huntington Library and Art Gallery, San Marino, Calif.
But the artist was both a portraitist and a landscape painter who is recognized for his mastery of design, sensitivity to personality and ability to capture individual characteristics.
The Gainsborough painting in the Browning collection is a portrait of Mrs. Casberd.
Francois Boucher (1703-1770) was a popular exponent of the Rococo style of painting in France. And in him, French 18th-century taste was manifest. He was first painter to King Louis XV, as well as a favorite of Madame de Pompadour. The painting that's now part of UMFA's permanent collection is "Les Jeunes Amoureux," which captures on canvas a young couple's budding romance.
Also included in the collection is an ambitious, allegorical painting by Jan Brueghel, the Younger (1601-1678, nephew of Pieter Brueghel the Elder). "An Allegory of Air" shows a variety of birds, a nude female figure (possibly Venus), Diana wearing a crescent moon over her head and the chariot of Apollo in a distant clearing.
This Flemish painter is famous for small pictures of botanical and zoological subjects filled with meticulous detail.
Not much is known about Sir Phillip Richard Morris (1833-1902), painter of "The Wedding Party."
Sanguinetti said this English Victorian painter was definitely a romantic. "The scene that we see here is a kind of romantic vision of a country wedding that probably took place about a century before it was painted by Morris."
In my estimation, one of the finest artworks in the collection has been painted by a woman - French artist Marie Louise Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun (1755-1842). The painting is titled "Portrait of the Young Countess Schouvalof (1797)."
Sanguinetti said that she was one of the most active women painters of her day and was one of only three women admitted to the French Academy.
"She painted over two dozen portraits of Marie Antoinette," he explained. "She was a great portraitpainter, always presenting subjects in an involved way. There's a wonderful sense of vitality in her portraits."
Other painters with works in the collection are Dominique Eisen, French (1720-1778); Circle of George Flegel, German; Francois Ykens, Flemish (1601-1693); and the School of Pieter de Hooch, Dutch (1629-1684).
Three artists are represented by two works each:
Charles F. de Lacroix (not to be confused with Eugene Delacroix), French (1729-1782). His two small paintings, titled "Vues de Ports de Mer," are superb examples of atmospheric perspective.
Dirk Hals (not to be confused with Franz Hals), Dutch (1591-1656). His pair of paintings, "Merry Company," show a colorful palette and imagery that help describe the fleeting pleasures of self-indulgence.
Franz Xaver Petter, Austrian (1791-1866). These two still-life paintings combine flowers, fruit and - in one - a bird's nest.
An additional 17 paintings will be added at a later date.
"They are a bequest," Sanguinetti said. In other words, they will be made available after Browning's death.
"When they are all here, we will exhibit the entire collection in the gallery bearing his (Browning's) name," the museum director added.
Included in this last group are many more superb works, including a large portrait of Princess Galitzin by Le Brun; two large portraits by Early Renaissance German artist Barthel Bruyn; another by Jan Brueghel; two by Flemish painter Adrien Isenbrandt; and several Italian paintings, including two by Giorgione.
And how valuable is this entire collection? "In terms of insured value, we are talking about $3 million."
Sanguinetti said the paintings constitute a genuine treasure because they'll "enrich the lives of the statewide public into the far future."
UMFA director E. Frank Sanguinetti will discuss the Browning gift at 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 16, in the museum. The public is welcome. A further series of lectures on the Browning collection will be announced at a later date. Admission to those lectures - and to the museum - is free. The Utah Museum of Fine Arts is located on South Campus Drive on the University of Utah campus. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 2-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.