8445 - Columbia Museum of Art receives landmark art donation from Columbia Donors George and Chee Chee Walker

Henri Le Sidaner (French, 1862-1939) Les Iles Borromées, 1909. Oil on canvas. Framed: 28.5 x 39.5 inches. Gift from the Estate of George and Chee Chee Walker CMA 2016.4.1
The Columbia Museum of Art received ten works of art from the estate of George and Chee Chee Walker. Informed and enthusiastic art collectors, the couple were dedicated patrons of the CMA for decades. Their generous gift to the community consists of seven paintings, two watercolors, and a bronze sculpture by internationally recognized British, European, and American artists. Le Sidaner’s Les Iles Borromées (The Borromean Islands), the star of the bequest, will be on display in the CMA Collection starting November 21.
“George and Chee Chee were ideal friends,” says Executive Director Karen Brosius. “They will be missed, and their traditional blend of elegance and erudition not replaced. We are most grateful to them, and to their family, for this remarkable gift of art. Having their art on view will be a memorable artistic legacy for all to enjoy, and their spirit will live on inside of the Columbia Museum of Art.”

In recent years, George Walker initiated conversations with the CMA about which works from the Walker Collection would be significant to the museum. His wishes led to several long visits with Chief Curator Will South, where they discussed how this gift could best fill gaps or add to the strengths of the museum’s collection. Emblematic of their unbounded generosity, the Walkers made it clear that anything in their extensive collection could come to the CMA.

The Walkers were dedicated to the museum’s mission and its place of excellence in the community. George Walker served on the CMA Collections Committee and was the committee chair for many years. This committee, comprised of past and current board members, art scholars and specialists, and museum staff, has the task of bringing high-quality works into the collection and refining it so that it best reflects the museum’s artistic vision. As proprietor of the G. Walker Gallery, focusing on fine art, antiques, and framing, George Walker fostered a collection with an international focus unconstrained by artistic style or time period. A true connoisseur with a discerning and distinctive eye, George Walker also purchased works for his and Chee Chee’s own enjoyment in their Blythewood home.

“The Walker Gift elevates the entire institution in quality and thus the quality of our subsequent programming, and, ultimately, it elevates the quality of the visitor experience,” says South. “People come to museums to see the best of what the human imagination can achieve in the arts, and to demonstrate that achievement we need art of the highest caliber.”

Though the museum has received numerous donations of art from the Walkers over the years, their bequest is particularly transformative. Spectacular in both color and composition, these works of art beautifully illustrate the story of Western art in the early 20th century.

Among the 10 gifts received is Henri Le Sidaner’s Les Iles Borromées (The Borromean Islands), a major new acquisition. A well-known highlight of the collection, Claude Monet’s The Seine at Giverny has been the museum’s sole representative of impressionism for decades. The Le Sidaner serves as a fitting pendant to the Monet and enhances the visitor’s understanding of one of the most important movements in the history of art.

Geoffrey Tibble’s Interior Scene with Three Women emphasizes flat planes of color and sharp design wrapped around a set of figures that do not interact with each other, creating a quiet but tense image. This modern work of art strengthens the CMA’s growing 20th-century European collection.

Hilda Belcher’s Scarlet and Blue is a tender portrait of mother and child painted with tremendous confidence and panache. The painting is featured in the museum’s new children’s book I See Art! that will be given to families participating in the CMA partnership program with Richland County First Steps, an early childhood education outreach initiative.

“It is not an overstatement to say that museums exist only because great art exists,” continues South. “Our role is to preserve and present it, to help interpret it, and to keep it forever accessible to our community. George and Chee Chee’s gift is both the reason for those efforts and a validation of them.”