COLLECTORS WITH PANACHE
Scott M. Black tells the story of 19th- and
20th-century French painting and sculpture.
|By Diana Mehl
As the founder and CEO of Boston-based
Delphi Management Company, one of the country's leading
money management firms, Scott Black has made millions for
himself and his clients through a combination of brilliant
business acumen and an uncanny knack for spotting undervalued
investment opportunities. These same qualities combined
with a passionate love for art have also enabled him to
build one of the finest private collections of Impressionist,
post-Impressionist and early modern paintings and sculpture
in the United States in just the last 20 years. Although
Black does not have a degree in art history (he has an
undergraduate degree from Johns Hopkins in applied mathematics
and economics as well as a MBA from Harvard), he is considered
to be one of the art world's most knowledgeable collectors.
George T. M. Shackelford, chair of the Art of Europe department
at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), and curator of
the upcoming MFA exhibition The Romance of Modernism: Paintings
and Sculpture From the Scott M. Black Collection, says
of Black, “Time and time again, I am amazed by Scott's
memory for art historical dates, the ups and downs of the
art market and the key events in the evolution of modern
art. It's almost as if he's got an encyclopedia
in his head. I have to go to the books or the Web for information
that he's got at his fingertips.”
Scott and Isabelle Black in front of Paul Cézanne's
Trees in the Jas de Bouffan (circa 1874), which they
lent to the exhibition Cézanne in Provence at
the National Gallery of Art in Washington.
Black is equally passionate about sharing his collection
with the public. A native of Portland, ME, and now a resident
of Boston, Black is a longtime supporter of both the MFA
and the Portland Museum of Art, generously lending many of
his masterpieces to these and other major institutions. An
exhibition of 40 paintings and 10 bronzes from his collection
will be on view at the MFA from December 12 through May 6.
In an interview with Panache, Scott Black describes how he
built his extraordinary collection.
Clockwise from top left: Claude Monet, Monte
Carlo Seen From Roquebrune, oil on canvas, 1884. Scott M. Black Collection.
Theodore van Rysselberghe, The Regatta, oil on canvas, 1892.
Scott M. Black Collection. René Magritte, Portrait
of Mme A. Thirifays (The Heart Unveiled), oil on canvas,
1936. Scott M. Black Collection. Fernand Léger, The
Bunch of Grapes, oil on canvas, 1928. Scott M. Black Collection.
How did you develop the knowledge to build such an important
I didn't formally study art history in college, but
I have always been knowledgeable about painting, and I
think that I have a good eye. During the 1970s I lived
in New York City, and visited MoMA, the Met and the Guggenheim
frequently. If you see enough good paintings, you know
what museum quality is. I have a rule: If it would not
look good on the walls of the Met, the MFA or the Orsay,
you are wasting your money.
Many of my paintings have been in major shows, not just
in the United States, but in France and England also. The
National Gallery in Washington held a Cézanne retrospective
recently. Most of the lenders were the great museums. I
had Trees in the Jas de Bouffan, which was the first painting
in the first room of the exhibition. Was it the best painting
there? No. But it's nice to know you're on
the same level as the world's best. There was a Degas
show at the Art Institute of Chicago to which I lent my
Pagans and Degas's Father, a true masterpiece. Most
of my paintings – Monet, Renoir, Cézanne,
Braque – are in the major textbooks. That's
the standard I have always tried to buy.
I pride myself on being probably one of the most knowledgeable
collectors. It's a passion. Since I didn't
start with much money and have been fortunate in life,
I enjoy knowing what I own. Since you spend so much money
to acquire good paintings, you really ought to study the
background of what you have. It's important.
You also travel to visit the places that artists painted.
I am a Francophile as is my wife, Isabelle, who is European
and who has lived in Paris. She shares my passion and is
currently studying art history. A few years ago we journeyed
to Giverny, having just purchased Monet's The Seine
at Lavacourt (1878) at Sotheby's. Concomitantly,
we traveled along the river to Vétheuil, where Monet
lived and painted until 1883, visiting the church at Vétheuil.
Across the Seine is Lavacourt. We saw the identical point
of reference that Monet utilized in our painting.
I bought a Boudin – Beach Scene Near Trouville – because
Isabelle liked it. (It has a wonderful provenance – previously
owned by William Paley.) I have visited both Trouville
and Deauville. The beach has a wide expanse, with a sky
much like Maine where I grew up – light blue with
white, puffy clouds. The ocean water is cold, even in the
summer. Unlike the Côte d'Azur, the water doesn't
glisten in the sunlight. So I know exactly what Boudin
Can you describe how you acquired some of your paintings?
The first painting I acquired is the only average painting
in my collection: Renée Monchaty by Bonnard (1920).
The second painting – still one of my best – was
the Monet View at Cap Martin purchased in the spring
of 1986 at Christie's. In the late 1980s, the Japanese
were active collectors and were relentless. It was difficult
to buy anything good in the first tier; hence, I bought
the top of the next tier. The third painting I owned
is spectacular, perhaps the greatest painting that Van
Rysselberghe ever created, La Regate (1892). The next
purchase was the 1929 Léger, The Still Life. Instead
of a contrast in form, it is more of a contrast in color,
one of Léger's last abstractions.
Then the art market cracked in November 1990, and I bought
the Degas Double Portrait from the Henry Ford estate. I
was told that I would never obtain the Degas, since it
was likely that the Sainsbury Family would bid against
me. In the ensuing years I multiplied the collection, probably
spending too much of my net worth. In many of the sales
at Christie's and Sotheby's I was buying two
paintings. A Signac that had been sold to a German collector
named Schnabel at a record $2.2 million returned to auction
at Christie's 18 months later. I paid $600,000 for
a wonderful image. At another Sotheby's sale they
auctioned off Klaus Perl's Braque and Léger.
I bought back his 1927 Braque and another excellent Léger,
La Grappe de Raisins (1928). Both Légers were included
in the MFA Art Deco exhibition. Another evening at Christie's
I bid successfully on both a Degas ballerina and a Magritte.
It's unusual to cross over from 19th century to surrealism,
but the Magritte was a giveaway – Le Coeur Devoile,
from the 1930s. The Degas was from the mid-1890s and had
a wonderful provenance, having been owned by the artist's
nephew René Degas. The ballerina is post-Impressionist,
highly abstracted in the face.
What would you like to add
to your collection?
I would love to own a Manet. One appeared the first year
I collected – from the Harris Whittemore Collection – of
a man playing a Shakespearean actor standing in shallow
space à la Velázquez. I wasn't so
knowledgeable then and didn't have as much money.
I certainly would have bought it today at that price.
The other two that are obvious are Vincent Van Gogh and
Paul Gauguin from the 19th century. In the 20th century
there are two holes: One is a Fauve Derain – they
very rarely appear. The other would be a Juan Gris. Several
times I bid on a Gris I've been outbid by Mr. Lauder.
I bid on a beautiful painting in 1992, The Mandoline from the McCarty Cooper Collection. I underbid it. The
next day I acquired the Signac (Le Nuage Rose) at Christie's,
and the following night the exceptional Delvaux (Le Salut)
at Sotheby's. I try to look objectively at what
I like and buy the best that's affordable. My attitude
is it is better to buy fewer that are better.
Last year I added two paintings: a wonderful Miró – a
late one but very good quality – The First Spark
of Day III. It's a big painting with explosive color.
I also bought Pissarro's The Louvre: Winter Sunlight,
Morning. It has beautiful, suffused winter light. Admittedly,
Pissarro is one of my favorite painters. I was fortunate
that the painting slipped through the cracks at auction.
Obviously, it was expensive.
Clockwise from top left: Paul Signac, Antibes, the
Pink Cloud, oil on Canvas, 1916. Scott M. Black Collection. Joan Miró,
The First Spark of Day III, oil and acrylic on canvas, 1966.
Scott M. Black Collection. Paul Delvaux, The
Greeting (The Meeting), oil on canvas, 1938. Scott M. Black Collection.
How is your wife involved in
If we both like something and it's affordable, I'll
buy it. Isabelle prefers the 19th century. There were three
paintings in the last few years that she particularly liked
that I favored, so we bought them. The first was The Seine
at Lavacourt (1878). The next selection was the Boudin
(Beach Scene Near Trouville), from the 1880s. It has the
fashionable figures on the beach with the parasols. Instead
of being painted flat like in the 1860s, it has the Impressionist
comma brushstrokes. And she loved the Pissarro cityscape
with the suffused light – it reminded her of our
strolls along the Seine and the beautiful light of Paris.
are your favorite paintings in the collection?
The View at Cap Martin by Monet. I was 39 when I bought
it. My net worth at the time was $1 million, and I spent
$770,000 for the Monet. Most people don't spend
77% of their net worth for a painting. Since I came from
a middle-class background, it represented something special
for me: It is an achievement to own a really good Monet,
especially one from Mrs. Potter Palmer that had been
exhibited frequently. I always say that if I went broke
and was forced to sell all of my paintings except one
(I own 43 paintings), the one I would keep would be the
Another favorite is the Tête de Femme, the double
image of Marie-Thérèse (1934) by Picasso.
It's a very strong image with the intersecting faces,
the moon and the sun. Isabelle studied Picasso and Cubism
with Harry Cooper at Harvard. She explained to me that
the yellow and red in the background was how Picasso encoded
himself in the painting. Matisse would place his reflection
in the mirror. Picasso put the colors of the Spanish flag
into the background.
My favorite painters happen to be Monet in the 19th century
and Picasso in the 20th century.
Clockwise from Left: Edgar Degas, Pagans
Father, oil on canvas, about 1895. Scott M. Black Collection.
Raoul Dufy, Boats at Martigues, oil on canvas, 1907. Scott
M. Black Collection. Georges Braque, Pipe
and Compote, oil
and sand on canvas, 1919. Scott M. Black Collection.
What are the best paintings
in your collection?
|Paintings and Sculpture From
the Scott M. Black Collection
December 12, 2006 –
May 6, 2007
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
The Degas Double Portrait hands down is the greatest painting
I own. It's a serious painting and arguably could
be the second best Degas hanging in the Orsay after The
Bellelli Family. Most of the time there is a spatial
disjunction in Degas portraits – the people do
not interact and there is a coldness. Unlike his other
portraits, this one is passionate. Degas revered his
father and painted more after his father's death
from a small painting that hung in his bedroom and also
from memory. Degas started the painting in 1888 and completed
it in the mid-1890s. Lorenzo Pagans is giving a music
lesson to his father, who has stooped shoulders and is
withered. There is interaction between the father and
Pagans. You can see that Degas breathed humanity into
the painting, which is unusual in his portraiture. You
can observe also that Degas loved his father. It's
a powerful painting.
The other paintings that are among the best: the Van
Rysselberghe. He was aboard Signac's sailboat, the Olympia, attended
a regatta and created the pointillist painting. Very much
in his peak style of 1892, my Van Rysselberghe is a signature
piece that has been loaned to shows at the Grand Palais.
Another masterpiece of that variety is the Signac Antibes,
Le Nuage Rose, which has been loaned to the Grand Palais
and the Met for exhibitions. There are better opus paintings,
but of the divisionist paintings it is unusual. I also
have the Delvaux Le Salut and the Bernard Le Printemps.
Critic Hilton Kramer wrote that he thinks The Boats of
Martigues is the single greatest Dufy. This painting has
the green and orange colors from Cézanne's
palette. Dufy is moving towards abstraction with the boats
transformed into angles. Cézanne said that everything
can be reduced to the cylinder, the cone and the sphere.
And you see it here. The boats are arranged circularly
(the sphere), while the shape of the boats is geometric.
You can definitely observe the influence of Cézanne
in the painting.
Image 1, © 2006 Board of Trustees, National Gallery
of Art, Washington; Photo by Kyle Samperton; Image group
2: clockwise from top left: Benjamin Magro. Courtesy, Portland
Museum of Art, Maine. Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Photography © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Meyersphoto.com.
Courtesy, Portland Museum of Art, Maine.© 2006 Artists
Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy, Museum of Fine
Arts, Boston. © 2006 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New
York/ADAGP, Paris. Photography © Museum of Fine Arts,
Boston; image group 3: clockwise from top left: Photography © Museum
of Fine Arts, Boston. Meyersphoto.com. Courtesy, Portland
Museum of Art, Maine. © 2006 Successió Miró/Artists
Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris. Courtesy, Museum
of Fine Arts, Boston. © 2006 Artists Rights Society
(ARS), New York/SABAM, Brussels. Photography © Museum
of Fine Arts, Boston ; image group 4: top: Photography © Museum
of Fine Arts, Boston. Bottom left: Melville D. McLean. Courtesy,
Portland Museum of Art, Maine. © 2006 Artists Rights
Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris. Courtesy, Museum of
Fine Arts, Boston. Bottom right: © 2006 Artists Rights
Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris. Photography © Museum
of Fine Arts, Boston