The Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints may be set to meet in Super Bowl XLIV in Miami next Sunday, but a side bet between the Indianapolis Museum of Art and the New Orleans Museum of Art really caught my art-loving eye. What began as a friendly little wager involving nice but minor figures eventually escalated into a high-stakes game involving heavyweights J.M.W. Turner and Claude Lorrain.
It started quietly enough with IMA director Max Anderson offering to put up for loan with a Saints win a drawing by contemporary artist Ingrid Calame involving tracings of skid marks from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Not a fan of skid marks, NOMA director E. John Bullard upped the ante with Renoir’s Seamstress at Window in the event of a Colts win. Dissing Renoir as a “China Painter”—an allusion to how the Impressionist’s career began—Anderson countered with a bejeweled bloodstone cup by 19th century artist Jean-Valentine Morel. Not a fan of French bling, Bullard suggested that the two museums stop playing games and get serious with works they’d really hate missing for the 3-month loan period.
At that point, Anderson took the bet nuclear, proposing the IMA’s The Fifth Plague of Egypt (pictured) by J.M.W. Turner for the NOMA’s Portrait of Marie Antoinette by Élisabeth-Louise Vigée-Le Brun. Unfortunately, the Vigée-Le Brun work was too fragile to travel, so the NOMA stepped things up with Claude Lorrain’s Ideal View of Tivoli. The game was on.
So, someone is going to end up with a Turner and a Lorrain hanging side by side on their gallery wall after Sunday’s game. When Turner donated his Dido Building Carthage to Britain, he stipulated that it hang between Claude’s Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba and The Marriage of Isaac and Rebekah at the National Gallery in London. Claude was one of Turner’s greatest heroes. At least Turner would be happy with the end result. Neither Turner nor Claude ever saw anything resembling professional football, but I’d bet that Turner, a rough-and-tumble character who actually passed for an old sea captain in his later years, would have enjoyed the action.
Kudos to the IMA and NOMA for bringing fun and football into the too often, too reserved rooms of the American art museum. This is a wager where everyone wins.