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Palmer Museum Receives Major Bequest from Late Benefactor Barbara Palmer

by on September 12, 2019 5:00 AM

Penn State's Palmer Museum of Art announced this week that it has received a "landmark" bequest of nearly 200 works of art from the estate of the late Barbara R. Palmer, the longtime benefactor and champion of the museum who died in January.

Palmer's collection is considered one of the finest private collections of American art in the country, according to a museum press release.

“Both Penn State and central Pennsylvania have been immeasurably enriched through Barbara and Jim Palmer’s commitment to the arts and the community, and their legacy will live on through all who experience the Palmers’ collection on our campus,” Penn State President Eric J. Barron said. “The university is deeply honored that Barbara chose to entrust these works to our institution, and we look forward to preserving and sharing this generous gift.” 

Barbara Palmer and her late husband, Jim, began their collection in 1978 with the acquisition of a self-portrait by contemporary painter Jerome Witkin. Over the years it grew to include works by well-known 19th-century artists and prominent artists of the mid-to-late 20th century, with major paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe, Winslow Homer, Frederic Edwin Church, Martin Johnson Heade, John Sloan Marsden Hartley and Thomas Hart Benton, among others. 

The collection also includes significant works on paper by Mary Cassatt, Jacob Lawrence, John Marin, Charles Demuth and Chuck Close, several major sculptures by Seymour Lipton and a collection of late-20th century ceramics.

Erin Coe, Palmer Museum director, said the bequest is "truly transformative" and will further elevate the museum's national reputation.

"It will shape, even define, the museum’s presentation of American art for generations to come,” Coe said.

Lake George, 1924, by Georgia O’Keeffe. Bequest of James R. and Barbara R. Palmer. © 2019 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum / Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York

Barbara and Jim Palmer, who were generous philanthropists throughout the Centre Region community and beyond, made the lead gift in that ultimately led to the on-campus museum that bears their name. Even before the museum opened its doors, they had already begun donating works of art to Penn State. After Jim's death in 2001, Barbara Palmer continued donating works to the museum, significant paintings by early 20th-century American artists, major sculptures by Lipton and other gifts.

A selection of 11 works from the bequest is currently on view at the museum. A major of the James and Barbara Palmer Collection will open at the museum in June 2021.

“We plan to have this exhibition travel to additional venues, helping us spread the word about this outstanding collection and our remarkable benefactors,” Coe said.

Frederic Edwin Church, "Vermont Scenery," 1852, oil on canvas, 18 x 26 1/8 inches. Bequest of James R. and Barbara R. Palmer.

Jacob Lawrence, "Confrontation at the Bridge," 1975, gouache on paper, 22 1/2 x 30 1/8 inches. Bequest of James R. and Barbara R. Palmer. © 2019 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York

Geoff Rushton is managing editor for Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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