Art gifts: Shrinking DuPont donates Wyeths from ex-HQ, hotel

Friends and neighbors of old captain John Teel, gathering to pay their last respects. The scene is Teel Island in Muscongus Bay off the coast of Maine.

DuPont Co. is giving 20 works by N.C. Wyeth and his descendants and other Brandywine Valley-based artists, which hung in the company's former Wilmington headquarters and the adjacent Hotel du Pont, to three local museums: the Brandywine River Museum of Art, the Delaware Art Museum, and the Hagley Museum & Library.

DuPont, which has substantially reduced its Wilmington-area office presence and its management, central research, and professional staff as it prepares to merge with Dow Chemical Co., declined to estimate the value of the donations or the tax benefits it will enjoy. The company in January sold the hotel, which remains in operation, to local developer Buccini/Pollin Group.

The company is also donating 400 paintings to be sold to benefit the United Way of Delaware.

The museum donations include N.C. Wyeth's Island Funeral; White House, depicting a pale mansard-roofed house on a hillside typical of the "Brandywine school," by Jamie Wyeth; Frank Schoonover's October Comes, a harvest scene; Frank Jefferis' The Brandywine, depicting Wilmington landmarks Henry Clay Mill and Rockford Tower; and Edward L. Loper's Elfreth's Alley, which depicts the venerable Philadelphia block as a slightly sinister, shadowy scene out of Van Gogh. "More people will be seeing Island Funeral, the most significant picture, and I'm glad. Not everyone had lunch at the Hotel du Pont," said Lawrence Nees, chair of the art history department at the University of Delaware.  

While DuPont and its founding family have been patrons of the arts, the dispersal of the corporate collection was inevitable, Nees added. "It's a chemical company. Why were they running a hotel? That's an old business model," he said. "People really care about Andrew Wyeth and the Wyeth family. They come from all over to see their works," including the large collection at the Brandywine River Museum near the family homes. 

The museums "will ensure the care and conservation of important works from our collection so that the public can enjoy them for generations to come," said Richard Olson, who, as senior vice president for DuPont Corporate Services, has helped preside over the dismantling of the company's former cultural and recreation assets. He said DuPont has been supporting the local United Way for more than 70 years.

"We are delighted," Thomas Padon, director of the Brandywine River Museum, said in a statement.

He called Island Funeral one of patriarch N.C. Wyeth's "masterpieces," painted in a studio that now forms part of the Chadds Ford shrine that houses many of Wyeth's best-known pictures and other magazine illustrations.  

Delaware Art Museum, which faced a cash crush so severe that it felt compelled to sell paintings during the last recession, was "thrilled" to receive Loper and Schoonover paintings, an N.C. Wyeth illustration, and Andrew Wyeth watercolors, CEO Sam Sweet said in a statement, adding that the museum was glad to be able to help the paintings stay "within the community," where some will become part of the permanent collection. United Way has not yet announced details of its sale.