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Hamptons Life

Feb 21, 2012 9:51 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Parrish: What Stays And What Goes

Feb 21, 2012 2:13 PM

It will take three climate-controlled air-ride semi trucks to move 2,600 pieces of artwork 2.8 miles but the Parrish Art Museum move from its current home in Southampton to its new digs in Water Mill will be a procession without much ceremony.

All of the artwork will be transported more or less at the same time, according to Museum Director Terrie Sultan. It will not be like a “group of ants” carrying one piece at a time down the street, she said. The move will happen quietly behind the scenes, and in one fell swoop, this August, she reported.

“We’re not going to have a parade for that,” Ms. Sultan said during an interview at the museum last week. “We’re just going to move the artwork.”

“No artwork left behind,” Chief Curator Alicia Longwell added.

“No artwork left behind that belongs to us,” Ms. Sultan stressed.

Ms. Longwell nodded in agreement. There will be, indeed, an array of paintings and sculpture missing from the new 34,500-square-foot, $26.2 million Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill when it opens in October: Samuel Longstreth Parrish’s founding collection.

The choice to leave the artwork behind is out of the women’s hands. The collection—which also includes the building, its furniture and grounds—belongs to Southampton Village, they explained.

“The sculptures in the garden, certainly the stone Caesars—that’s what we call them anyway—the rosettes that are on the side of the building all belong to the Village of Southampton,” Ms. Sultan said. “The plaster cast of classical sculpture, the paintings ...”

“The Italian Renaissance panel paintings,” Ms. Longwell continued. “That was all given by Parrish’s estate to the village. That is indeed the collection that will stay here.”

At present, it is unclear what will come of Mr. Parrish’s collection, according to Village Administrator Stephen Funsch. He expects a plan to be pulled together by late spring, after the village hires an architect, who will be renovating and redesigning the building, he said.

“We’re really not sure what we’re going to do with it yet,” he said of the collection during a telephone interview last week. “We have gone through it. We may display some of it in one section of the building, but there’s no final decision yet. It’s pretty interesting stuff.”

Mr. Parrish’s love of the Italian Renaissance, and the Greek and Roman classical civilizations that preceded it, is abundant in his collection, Ms. Longwell said. But it’s a fascination that the Philadelphian Quaker, who lived from 1849 to 1932, did not discover until his years spent at Harvard, leading him to seriously begin buying art in the early 1880s, she said.

“He became an attorney. His firm dealt a lot with railroads. He amassed a sizable private collection,” Ms. Longwell explained. “He wasn’t a Mr. Frick or Mr. Morgan in that sense. He didn’t have those means. He also did not have advisors as they did. He pretty much educated himself about these great hallmarks of western civilization, which is really what they were for him. He might say he was more interested in the history than the art itself.”

It was during those years that Mr. Parrish regularly visited his family’s Southampton home, nestled in the popular summer community that quickly piqued his interest. He retired from active law practice and moved to the East End. It was during a trip to Italy in 1896 that he decided to build a museum in the village.

He commissioned a fellow Southampton resident, architect Grosvenor Atterbury, who designed the museum over a 20-year span. The Art Museum at Southampton, as the Parrish was then known, was a single large exhibition hall—today’s Transept Gallery. It was constructed of wood in 1897. A concert hall was added in 1905, and in 1914, the wing to the street was built on. The arboretum was laid out on the museum’s grounds, with a plant list supplied by Warren H. Manning, a well-known horticultural authority and designer of the time.

“Parrish said he wanted to transplant to this small, Puritan village on the East End of Long Island something of the great exotic of the Italian Renaissance and Greek and Roman traditions,” Ms. Longwell said. “To that end, that’s exactly what he did.”

The collection became a major attraction, Ms. Longwell said. Mr. Parrish brought people together with his artwork, she said, because they’d never seen anything like it.

For the museum, Mr. Parrish had plaster reproductions of the marble Babylonian and Parthenon procession friezes sent over from the Louvre, where he wired the necessary funds, Ms. Longwell said. She added that the museum’s founder was, in effect, “online shopping” for the collection decades before the rest of the world caught on to the idea of purchasing goods and paying for them from afar.

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