Last week, Emmeline and I took an afternoon trip to the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens. A little known fact about me is that I love art history. I even received a minor in Art History with my Communications degree thanks to filling elective hours with art classes. Unfortunately I don’t remember much of what I learned earning that minor but I still love visiting art museums and learning about art history. And the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens here in Jacksonville is full of history.
Arthur Cummer and Ninah May Holden met at the University of Michigan and married in 1897. While on their honeymoon, the Cummers purchased their first piece of art – Along the Strand by artist Paul King. Shortly thereafter they moved with the family to Jacksonville to expand their successful lumber company. The Cummer family constructed the Jacksonville & Southwestern Railway, a railroad that was nearly 100 miles long, and formed the Cook-Cummer Steamship Line.
In 1902, Arthur and Ninah Cummer began the construction of their English Tudor inspired home on Riverside Avenue along the St. Johns River. Ninah was an avid gardener and enlisted the help of various landscape designers to cultivate the gardens. It wasn’t until Arthur’s death in 1943 that Ninah began to collect art in earnest expanding her collection to 60 pieces. In 1957, a year before her death, Ninah created the DeEtte Holden Cummer Museum Foundation, named for the deceased infant daughter of the Cummers, to manage her art collection and gardens. The Cummer Museum was established in 1958 and opened on to the public on November 10, 1961, three years after Ninah’s death.
As an homage to the Cummers, the Tudor room was constructed in the museum using paneling, flooring, a fireplace, and selection of art and furnishings from the Cummer’s home which was demolished shortly after Ninah’s death to make room for the museum.
These days, the museum features nearly 5,000 works of art, including the Cummer’s original 60 piece collection, and 2.5 acres of historic gardens, which have been preserved in their original layouts.
Each gallery was my favorite until I walked to the next but if I had to choose, I would pick the Semmes Gallery which features 17th Century European Baroque Art and houses a piece of art with an interesting history. Vanitas (pictured above) is an oil on canvas by Dutch artist Jacques de Claeuw that has been in the museum’s permanent collection since 1962.
Fast forward to 2012 when the museum received a notice from the heir of Jewish art dealer Jacques Goudstikker regarding ownership of Vanitas. Goudstikker fled the Netherlands in 1940 to escape the Nazi regime. Unfortunately he died during the process but left behind a log of over 1,400 pieces of art in his possession. The Goudstikker gallery was looted by Nazis within weeks of fleeing and Vanitas was sold in Cologne in 1941. The history of the painting between 1941 and when it was purchased by the Cummer in 1962 from a New York gallery remains a mystery.
After extensive research, the Museum’s Board of Trustees voted to return Varitas to Goudstikker’s heir, Marei von Saher. The museum re-purchased the painting as part of the settlement agreement. “It is heartening to see museums like the Cummer Museum do the right thing for Holocaust victims and their heirs,” said Marei von Saher. “We hope that the restitution of this work will lead other museums to as just as responsibly when faced with the discovery of Nazi-looted art in their collections.”
Another feature of the museum worth noting is the giant Live Oak tree in the gardens. Jacksonville has no shortage of historic oaks, you may remember my post on the Treaty Oak. The Cummer Oak is estimated to be between 175 and 200 years old and has a spread of 150 feet. Many sections of the tree are resting on pilings and being supported by cables to protect the oak’s root system.
Needless to say, I really enjoyed the quiet afternoon browsing the museum’s galleries and perusing through the gardens. (Emmeline enjoyed the quiet time to take a nap in her Tula.) There is fun for the whole family at the Cummer Museum including an interactive center for children and kid’s guides for different parts of the museum. There is also an audio tour of the gardens which can be accessed using any mobile phone. And thanks to Blue Star Families, military members and their families can visit the Cummer Museum for free this Summer from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
For more information on the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens including ticket pricing, hours, and exhibit schedules, visit cummermuseum.org.
Note: I tried to be respective and observant of the museum photography policy. Should I have made a mistake, please email me. Thanks!