Lorenz Eitner Memorial Acquisitions Fund Established

Stanford, California, February 20, 2010 —The Cantor Arts Center announces the establishment of a memorial fund to honor the late Lorenz Eitner, director of the Stanford Museum and chair of the Department of Art from 1964 to 1989.

Professor Eitner did extraordinary work to develop Stanford’s art department and had a crucial role in reviving the art museum. In a very real sense, he was the museum’s second founder and his legacy therefore lives on at Stanford.

To commemorate his importance for the museum, funds received will be used to purchase a painting that reflects his scholarly interests. Donations should be directed to Mona Duggan, Associate Director, Cantor Arts Center, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-5060.

The following article on Professor Eitner was written by Dr. Carol Osborne, Associate Director and Chief Curator of the Stanford Museum from 1978 to 1993.

Lorenz Eitner was an art historian of commanding stature, best known for his books and articles on the French romantic painter Theodore Gericault. Eitner’s 25 years at the museum saw a remarkable transformation in Stanford’s program of collecting, exhibiting, and publishing works of art. Eitner oversaw the impressive renovation of the huge, dilapidated building, for the most part unused since the 1906 earthquake. During his tenure, exhibition space grew from a single small gallery on the upper floor to galleries that stretched throughout all of the historic building’s expansive square footage.

When he arrived at Stanford in 1963 as chair of the Department of Art and professor of the history of art, Eitner was offered the museum casually as something the administration thought he might want to take on. “Motivated in part by sheer curiosity,” he later wrote, “in part by an expectation that working with objects would give relief from the foreseeable strains and fatigues of department building,” Eitner took on the job as an unsalaried position. One of the last of a generation of European-American art scholars, he hoped that if things went well, the university museum—as a part of the Department of Art—might develop into a useful center for practical study as well as an instrument for teaching. That it would also be a link with the surrounding community was key to the museum’s development, since the university was not planning to invest much money in the project.

Indeed, from the beginning, rehabilitation was supported by the Committee for Art (now the Cantor Arts Center membership), an art-minded group of community volunteers whose periodic money-raising events played an influential part in the cultural enterprise. Under Eitner’s direction, committee members helped staff the museum, offered docent services, and, most important, provided dependable funds for acquisitions.

The new director set about to build an art collection commensurate with the strengths of the art department he was forming, namely European art of the 16th–20th centuries. In fewer than 15 years he was able to acquire a collection of about 5,000 prints, 1,100 drawings, and a small group of paintings, all of high quality. An art historian with a good eye and a practical sense of the market, he drew on the small funds available to him to buy drawings that are now out of reach for small museums. Works by Tintoretto and G. B. Tiepolo, Turner and Constable, Delacroix and Gericault, among others, became the mainstay of his graduate and undergraduate seminars in master drawings. The Rodin sculptures, gifts of Iris and B. Gerald Cantor, entered the collection during those early years, attracted to Stanford by the scholarship of Professor Albert Elsen, whom Eitner had brought to the department in 1963.

Skilled in surprising ways, Eitner put his pen to good use in designing exhibition layouts for the museum’s technical crew to follow in hanging shows. In addition, in the early days of the building’s rehabilitation, his cartoons sent to various deans (of grimacing shark's heads embalmed in glass, depicting one of the many unusual items in the basement) helped empty the building of alien departments that had taken up squatting space in the museum.

Retired from the department and the museum in 1989, Eitner continued as a productive scholar with the publications 19th Century European Painting: David to Cezanne (2002) and French Paintings of the Nineteenth Century for the National Gallery (2000). His family recalled that even on the day of his death, he received art work for authentication from a New York dealer.

Eitner's vision for the institution laid the groundwork for the university's decision to bring the museum back to life after the devastation of the 1989 earthquake had closed its doors.

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Lorenz Eitner, director of the Stanford Museum and chair of the Department of Art from 1964 to 1989