December 20, 2011

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The Walters Art Museum announces major gift of over 260 Russian enamel artworks from the Jean M. Riddell collection

With this gift, the museum reaffirms its position as a leading center for the study of Russian art and enamel making

Baltimore—The Walters Art Museum announces today the gift of enameled Russian silver bequeathed by Jean Montgomery Riddell. This collection is comprised of more than 260 objects from the 17th through early 20th centuries. Riddell, who passed away in 2010 at the age of 100, was a Washington, D.C. patron of the arts. Her collection was internationally recognized and ranked as the finest of its kind in the United States. Although she was particularly interested in Moscow enamels of the late 19th and the early 20th centuries, her bequest also includes important additions to the Walters holdings of works from the firm of Carl Fabergé in St. Petersburg.

“We are honored that the Walters has been entrusted with this extraordinary collection of Russian enamels,” said Walters Director Gary Vikan. “Jean Riddell believed that with our existing holdings of Russian art and our commitment to past exhibitions in the field, the Walters would make a great home for her collection.”

Among Jean Riddell’s admirers was Susan Kaplan Jacobson of Leo Kaplan Ltd., whose family firm was for many years a major purveyor of Moscow enamels. In particular, she remembers Mrs. Riddell for her unassuming manner, which belied her wealth, and her varied interests, including flying airplanes.

Likewise, Paul Schaffer of the venerable New York firm of A La Vieille Russie, which traces its roots to Kiev in 1851, fondly recalls Jean Riddell’s visits. “Her achievement as a collector was truly exceptional. She was focused in her objectives and with her keen mind and rare determination, she assembled the premier collection of Russian enamels in the country.”  

Moscow silversmiths employed a range of enameling techniques seen in the Riddell Collection, but their most distinctive method was filigree—a variation on cloisonné in which twisted wires rather than flat strips of metal are used to separate the colors. The wires project from the surfaces rather than lying flat as in cloisonné. Often the sections within the wires were filled with enamel painted in different colors, another distinctive trait known as “shaded enamel.”

Riddell used the funds that she had inherited from her grandfather John Wildi, the first producer of evaporated milk, to support the National Ballet Company and the Paul Hill Chorale in Washington, D.C. She had studied with Thomas Benton at the Arts Students League in New York and later met her husband, Richard J. Riddell, at the American Embassy in Budapest where her father, John Montgomery, served as Franklin Roosevelt’s ambassador to Hungary from 1933 to 1941. Jean Riddell became interested in Russian enamels in 1966 when she inherited some examples from her husband.

To share these new acquisitions with the public in the future, the Walters is developing an exhibition for spring 2015, which will also tour. Currently there are 12 pieces on view on the 4th floor of the Centre Street Building. Highlights include a filigree enamel tankard inspired by a 17th-century Turkish prototype from the Kremlin Armory and a beaker with remarkable plique-à-jour enamel—a design outlined in metal and filled with colored enamels without a backing, creating a stained glass effect.

The Walters Art Museum
The Walters Art Museum is located in downtown Baltimore’s historic Mount Vernon Cultural District at North Charles and Centre streets and is one of only a few museums worldwide to present a comprehensive history of art from the third millennium B.C. to the early 20th century. Collection highlights include Egyptian mummies, Renaissance suits of armor, Fabergé eggs, Art Nouveau jewelry and old master paintings. Among its thousands of treasures, the Walters holds the finest collection of ivories, jewelry, enamels and bronzes in America and a spectacular reserve of illuminated manuscripts and rare books. The Walters’ Egyptian, Greek and Roman, Byzantine, Ethiopian and western medieval art collections are among the best in the nation, as are the museum’s holdings of Renaissance and Asian art. Every major trend in French painting during the 19th century is represented by one or more works in the Walters’ collection.

Photo Credits:

Firm of Pavel Ovchinnikov, Russian (Moscow), Tankard, 1888–96, silver gilt, filigree and plique-á-jour enamel, Bequest of Mrs. Jean M. Riddell, 2010, The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

Firm of Pavel Ovchinnikov, Russian (Moscow), Beaker, 1908–17Silver gilt, plique-à-jour enamel, Bequest of Mrs. Jean M. Riddell, 2010, The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore