The MFA has acquired the most important paintings, drawings, and sculpture from an exceptional collection assembled by the late Melvin Blake (a maxillofacial surgeon) and Frank Purnell (radiologist), both of New York. Beginning in the 1960s and throughout the next four decades, they assembled a collection of late-twentieth-century figurative art in which they maintained a singular view, emphasizing representation during a period of abstraction and championing many contemporary artists of Spain working in a realist tradition. Because of this gift, the Museum is able to represent areas previously unrealized, such as the first examples of surrealism through the work of Paul Delvaux, as well as to strengthen areas well represented by historical examples, such as British and Spanish painting.
Many of the artists whose work Blake and Purnell collected are recognized for their technical sophistication and reinterpretation of the classic subject of the figure, as in the paintings and drawings of Chilean-born Claudio Bravo. Especially significant to the MFA is the addition of eight paintings, drawings, and wood reliefs by Antonio López García, an influential master of Spanish realism. His compositions of the figure and ordinary settings of his surroundings in Madrid are remarkable for their atmospheric light and tactile qualities. Two bold canvases by Larry Rivers of unclothed family and friends, frequent subjects of the American artist in the 1950s, reveal his distinctive style in which drawing turns into painting within rich passages of color.
Among other notable works that are now part of the Museum’s permanent collection are an intimate portrait by British artist Lucian Freud, two drawings by Balthus, a charcoal study by R. B. Kitaj, and a watercolor by the Belgian surrealist René Magritte. Blake and Purnell also collected paintings and drawings by the circle of artists surrounding López García, as well as his students. Approximately forty works in a variety of media are included in this exhibition that heralds the arrival of The Melvin Blake and Frank Purnell Collection at the MFA.