Treasures of British Art 1400–2000: The Berger Collection

Treasures of British Art 1400–2000: The Berger Collection is organized by the Denver Art Museum. The exhibition is made possible by the Berger Collection Educational Trust.

Beginning in the mid-1990s, mutual fund financier William M.B. Berger and his wife, Bernadette, set out to assemble a collection of British art that would reflect the historical and cultural significance of Great Britain. In the course of three years, they amassed over two hundred works dating from the mid-fourteenth century to the present day, providing a remarkable survey of the development of art in Britain. In 1999, the Bergers created The Berger Collection Educational Trust and placed their vast collection on long-term loan to the Denver Art Museum (DAM), transforming the institution's holdings of European painting. In recent months, the Trust has gifted 65 paintings from the collection to DAM. Treasures of British Art 1400–2000: The Berger Collection showcases fifty masterworks from this unique collection, many of them part of the gift to DAM, charting the course of British painting over six centuries. The diverse selection includes religious works, history paintings, portraiture, landscapes, and sporting scenes by both famous and less well-known artists, including Thomas Gainsborough, Benjamin West, David Roberts, John Singer Sargent, and Alfred J. Munnings, among others.

Treasures of British Art 1400–2000: The Berger Collection presents a rare opportunity to view one of the most important collections of British art in America. The paintings in this exhibition tell the complex history of Great Britain and how matters such as religious conflict, the rise and fall of the monarchy, industrialization, trade expansion, colonialism, and European influences shaped British artistic identity. With such a breadth of historical material and a diverse representation of subject matter, there is something for everyone to enjoy in this remarkable exhibition.

Already in the eighteenth century, increasing numbers of British artists traveled abroad to explore foreign landscapes and new subject matter. As part of the Grand Tour, Rome was the ultimate destination for artists seeking to experience the riches of antiquity and the Renaissance first hand. Over the course of the nineteenth century, rising imperialism and exploration resulted in travel to more distant locations such as the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia. Scottish artist David Roberts toured Spain, Morocco, Egypt, and the Near East, producing extensive topographical views of the locations he visited. He painted the above landscape following a visit to Italy in 1853, the final stop on his travels before returning to London that same year. Although many of Roberts’ views are topographically correct, this image of St. Peter’s Basilica, in which much of the bustling city of Rome is omitted, is the result of the artist’s rich imagination.

Sporting Art
From the seventeenth to nineteenth century, sporting scenes — representations of rural pastimes like hunting, games, and horseraces — were a distinguishing feature of British artistic identity. Horses became enormously popular among aristocratic sportsmen who commissioned portraits of their prized animals. Although largely self-taught, George Stubbs is considered one of Britain’s greatest horse painters for his ability to combine rigorous anatomical accuracy with sensitive observation of his subjects. This painting (left) depicts a majestic bay hunter, an ideal horse for hunting across open country, standing before a gently receding landscape.

When Henry VIII broke with the Roman Catholic Church and established the Church of England in 1534, religious images that had once been regarded as instruments of devotion became suspect for their potential to be used as idols and were subsequently removed from churches and monasteries. Out of more than thirty thousand lost altarpieces, this stunning panel (below, under Hours, Tickets, & Tours) is among the few to have survived the widespread destruction of such imagery during the English Reformation. This painting of Christ’s crucifixion is one of the most important objects in the Berger Collection and is currently the best-preserved religious panel painting of its period in existence. William M.B. Berger considered it the linchpin of his collection and faced fierce competition on the market when he purchased it in 1997.

When the patronage of religious art decreased dramatically because of the emergence of Protestantism, secular subject matter, including portraiture, increased in popularity among the royal court and aristocracy. Foreign artists with international reputations were most popular for such commissions and consequently immigrated to England to work for the crown, exercising enormous influence on the development of the visual arts in Britain. Flemish artist Anthony van Dyck arrived in London in the early seventeenth century and is credited with revolutionizing the British portrait tradition. As court painter to Charles I (reigned 1625 to 1649), Van Dyck portrayed his subjects with the elegance and virtuosity of Italian Renaissance painters, providing prestige and distinction to court culture of the period. In this work (left), the widowed Lady Dacre holds a double-headed rose that signifies both lost and future love in the fading and blooming blossoms.

Modern Art
The social and technological advances of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as well as two world wars compelled artists to address the complexities of the modern world, resulting in a profusion of artistic styles and expressive concerns. Influenced by French artistic achievements of the period, specifically the Neo-Impressionist technique known as pointillism, Claude Francis Barry focused on shimmering cityscapes illuminated by fireworks. This painting represents the celebration held in London on July 19, 1919, to commemorate the end of World War I. Employing small dots of color, Barry featured the spectacular fireworks display over the important London landmarks of Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, and Westminster Bridge.

What's pictured: (top to bottom) David Roberts (1796–1864), St. Peter’s, Looking Back on Rome, 1855, oil on canvas, 11 1/2 x 29 1/4 in., Gift of the Berger Collection Educational Fund, 2018.17; George Stubbs (1724–1806), A Saddled Bay Hunter, 1786, oil on panel, 21 3/4 x 27 3/4 in., Promised Gift of the Berger Collection Educational Fund, TL-18021; Sir Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641), Dorothy, Lady Dacre, ca. 1633, oil on canvas, 50 x 40 in., The Berger Collection at the Denver Art Museum, TL-18887; Sir Claude Francis Barry (1883–1970), Victory Celebrations, 1919, oil on canvas, 63 x 69 in., The Berger Collection at the Denver Art Museum, TL-24828; Reproduced by kind permission of Amyl Holdings SA, owners of the worldwide copyright to the works of Sir Claude Francis Barry, Bart. 1883–1970; British School, The Crucifixion, ca. 1395, tempera and oil with gilded tin relief on oak panel, 39 7/8 x 21 1/2 in., Promised Gift of the Berger Collection Educational Fund, TL-18011

Hours, Tickets, & Tours

Treasures of British Art 1400–2000 is open during all regular Museum hours: Tuesday through Sunday, 10 am to 4 pm; late 'til 8 pm on Thursday. Closed Mondays and major holidays.

Treasures of British Art 1400–2000 is a ticketed exhibition:
General public adults: $10
(Thursday evening pricing, 4-8 pm: $5 for general public adults)
$5 for college students with a valid ID (tickets for those with a UNMC student ID are free)
Youth ages 17 and younger: Free
Joslyn Members: Free (Not a member? Click here to join now!)

All visitors, including members, must obtain a ticket for entrance to the exhibition (no reservations necessary).

Programs with visits to the exhibition will be priced accordingly for general public adults. Docent-guided tours of the exhibition are offered on select days. Check the calendar of events for exact tour dates. Treasures of British Art 1400–2000 ticket pricing applies.

Mobile Treasures of British Art 1400–2000

Free Wi-Fi is available in all Joslyn galleries. Bring your web-enabled mobile device or borrow one of ours to access the dual language Treasures of British Art 1400–2000 mobile tour. Presented by Joslyn and OnCell. Call (402) 881-3601 to access the tour in English; (402) 972-4031 for the Spanish language tour. Tour access information also available on site and on the Museum's mobile tour page.

Exhibition-Related Events & Programs

Friday, June 1 @ 5:30 pm
Members Preview Event

Saturday, June 2 @ 6:30 pm
Joslyn Art Museum Association Gala

Thursday, June 21 @ 6:30 pm
Curator Gallery Talk: Treasures of British Art 1400–2000

Friday, July 13 @ 7 pm
Brilliant! A Royal-Themed Drag and Dance Party

Thursday, July 26 @ 5 pm
Omaha Under the Radar Festival

Saturday, August 4 @ 2 pm
The Art of Victorian Tea and Fashion*
*Please note: due to unforeseen circumstances, tea expert Mona Christensen is no longer able to join us for this event. Humanities Nebraska speaker Susan McLain (better known as "Yesterday's Lady") will explore the changing fashions of the Victorian Era in her presentation, “The Victorian Lady.”

Thursday, August 16 @ 6:30 pm
Curator Gallery Talk: Treasures of British Art 1400–2000

Monday, August 27

Thursday, August 30 @ 6:30 pm
Public Lecture "The Madness of King George's Academy" with John Wilson, Ph.D.

Saturday & Sunday, September 1 & 2
Free College Weekend
During regular public hours (10 am to 4 pm) on Saturday and Sunday, September 1 & 2, anyone with a valid college ID will receive free tickets to Treasures of British Art 1400–2000.

Thursday, September 6 @ 6:30 pm
Film Screening: Monty Python and The Holy Grail