National Geographic : 1940 Jul
The National Geographic Magazine These fountains graced the gardens of the Palace of Versailles in France more than 250 years ago. They were done in 1672 by order of Louis XIV as part of the decoration for the celebrated Theatre d'Eau. One, by Pierre Le Gros, represents two winged cherubs playing with a lyre, and the other, by Jean-Baptiste Tubi, depicts two similar figures at play with an irate swan. This open-air theater, built for the esthetic satisfaction of Louis XIV, was considered one of the chief glories of Versailles. However, the many fountains throughout the park con sumed such a vast amount of water that pro tests came from adjoining districts which were left high and dry by the diversion of streams for the displays. The King, respecting the protests, passed word to one of his ministers, so that thereafter he arranged to stroll through the garden only at a designated hour. As he appeared, the water was turned on, and the moment he turned his back it was cut off. Louis is said never to have varied his schedule, nor would he turn his head for a second glance after passing. In the two garden courts, benches will be provided where visitors on a tour through the extensive galleries may find a restful interlude. The roof is entirely of wire-woven glass to afford natural lighting. Another layer of glass, several feet below the roof, forms the ceiling of each gallery room; this layer, the laylight, is sand-blasted to diffuse the light. One day a steel worker on the roof dropped a hammer, which broke a pane of glass in the laylight and crashed through to the floor. This accident set the builders thinking, and as a result a new type of glass was used for the lay lights, twenty times stronger than regular glass. If anything hits this shatter-proof glass, it pul verizes and floats down like snow. All the exhibition spaces will be completely air-conditioned, and museum experts predict that centuries-old works of art thus kept in uniform temperature and humidity throughout the year will be better preserved than hereto fore. The Capital a World Art Center Illustrated lectures on the collections will be given in an auditorium on the ground floor, and adjoining the central lobby there will be an art reference library including, in time, a large collection of photographs devoted to the history of art. Thus, with the Library of Congress and the National Gallery, supplemented by the other important collections in Washington the Freer Gallery for Oriental art; the Na tional Museum and the Corcoran Gallery for paintings, sculpture, and decorative arts; the Phillips Gallery for modern art and its sources; the Myers Collection for textiles, and Dumbarton Oaks for early Christian and medieval art-the Capital City will become a world center for art scholarship. When asked where a person should study to be a painter, Renoir, the great French artist, amazed that such an obvious question should be put to him, answered, "Why, in the museum, of course!" And Watteau, who became so famous, had little more than promise until the French collector Crozat permitted him to study and copy the works of art in his posses sion. In this collection was "The Finding of Moses," by Veronese, which is now in our na tional collection (Plate XII). In Washington, two centuries later, young artists will find the same opportunities that Watteau once enjoyed in Paris. Not only did Mr. Mellon request that the building should not bear his name, but he de sired also that the paintings given by him should not be segregated as "the Mellon Col lection." He wanted them distributed through the Gallery in their appropriate schools. It was his unselfish hope that the National Gallery would thus attract important gifts from other American collectors, willing to merge their works of art into a great institu tion for the American people. This hope is being abundantly fulfilled even before the gallery building has been completed. While the original collection was being formed, another reticent, public-spirited American was quietly gathering together a truly great col lection of works of art devoted entirely to the Italian schools. The Genesis of the Kress Collection On July 12, 1939, it was announced that Samuel H. Kress, of New York, had given to the National Gallery his collection of paint ings and sculpture, acclaimed by experts as one of the finest private collections of Italian art in existence. The Kress Collection consists of 375 paint ings and 18 pieces of sculpture. Practically all important painters of the Italian School from the thirteenth to the eighteenth centuries are represented. Appropriate gallery rooms are now being constructed to house these works, which will be installed before the building is opened to the public. Born in Cherryville, Pennsylvania, Mr. Kress started his career at an early age as a schoolteacher. Subsequently he founded a stationery store in Nanticoke, Pennsylvania, thus laying the foundation for a chain of 240 stores now operated from coast to coast.