Wednesday, March 29, 1995
Tales of the Bookseller's Row - Miss Adelaide de Groot 3/29/95
I was sitting, reading, near the birch trees in the garden, near the closing time in June, in the 1960s, when the elderly gentlewoman next to me asked me for an insignificant favor. Only after she struck up a conversation did I realize that I was being picked up. It was not a pickup type of pickup; as it transpired, she needed someone to walk with her to her house up North, off 5th Avenue, and I was the nearest trustworthy-looking male.
Having been gently solicited, I agreed. It was only then that the lady gave me her full name, and I was stunned. It was Miss Adelaide Milton de Groot, a famous collector of the French Impressionists, whose name was on numerous acknowledgemets of loan exhibits at the MOMA and the Met. My interest was pricked: would I be invited to see some momentous masterpieces in a museum-like residence? It did not seem likely; the lady stopped at the Tripler's window to express gentle disapproval of the prices of neckties, her nephew's birthday was coming up, and she was shopping for gifts.
I had told her that I knew of her collection, and after some back-and-forth she revealed that the paintings were in storage. She could not afford the insurance, and her premises were not sufficiently watched. It was truly sad; she spoke lovingly of the paintings, she would adore to see them once more entering and leaving the house. For the past years she had seen them only in reproductions and old museum catalogues.
That was sad - the old gentlewoman, no progeny, no close people, and no art to warm her spirits. I invited her to have a bite on East 52nd Street, a nice restaurant that I could scarcely afford, and she declined, it was out of her way. I have a suspicion that she had a hot plate at home, and some spaghetti and sauce.
Miss de Groot and I met a very few times at the MOMA afterwards; then I became a husband and left the Bohemian drift, acquiring a more purpose-full lifestyle. It was only years later that the news came through that Miss Adelaide had passed away and left her Impressionists to the finest repository in the land, the great Metropo;itan Museum, in care of its Director, the charming and innovative Thomas Hov ning. Then, in future years , came the story.
It seems that Miss de Groot's collection of magnificent French Impressionists was duplicating the Met's own, and could be safely deaccessioned, that is, exchanged and sold in the collector market. Since the gift was without reservations (a warning to you, my wealthy collector readers), the paintings could be moved out into the open market, quietly. Mr Hoving came in for some criticism.