Museums preserve clues that can help scientists predict and analyze future pandemics

Pamela Soltis

Distinguished Professor and Curator, Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida

Joseph Cook

Professor of Biology and Curator, Division of Mammals, Museum of Southwestern Biology, University of New Mexico

Richard Yanagihara

Professor of Pediatrics and Principal Investigator, Pacific Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases Research, University of Hawaii

24 June 2020  8.17am EDT


In less than 20 years, communities around the globe have been hit by a string of major disease outbreaks: SARS, MERS, Ebola, Zika and now, COVID-19. Nearly all emerging infectious diseases in humans originate from microorganisms that are harbored by wildlife and subsequently “jump,” either directly or indirectly – for example, through mosquitoes or ticks – to humans.

One factor driving the increase in zoonotic disease outbreaks is that human activities – including population growth, migration and consumption of wild animals – are leading to increased encounters with wildlife. At the same time, genetic mutations in viruses and other microbes are creating new opportunities for disease emergence.

But humans remain largely ignorant of our planet’s biodiversity and its natural ecosystems. Only two million species – about 20% of all the estimated species on Earth – have even been named. In our view, this fundamental ignorance of nearly all aspects of biodiversity has resulted in an inefficient, poorly coordinated and minimally science-based response to key aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We have diverse backgrounds in plant and mammal evolution and emerging infectious diseases. In a newly published commentary that we wrote with colleagues from across the U.S. and in six other countries, we identify a largely untapped resource for predicting future pandemics: natural history collections in museums around the world.

These collections preserve specimens of animals, plants and other organisms that illustrate the diversity of life on Earth. They are reservoirs of information and samples that can help scientists identify likely pathogen sources, hosts and transmission pathways. We believe that leveraging collections in this way will require more resources and more collaboration between biodiversity scientists and disease outbreak sleuths.

Sir David Attenborough explains how museum collections contribute to our understanding of the natural world.

Archives of life on Earth

Research shows that zoonotic diseases have increased due to human intrusion into animal habitats. In particular, destruction of tropical rain forests throughout the world has brought us face to face with microbes that occur naturally in wild animals and can cause disease in our own species.

Earth’s biodiversity is connected through a family tree. Viruses, bacteria and other microbes have evolved with their hosts for millions of years. As a result, a virus that resides in a wild animal host such as a bat without causing disease can be highly pathogenic when transmitted to humans. This is the case with zoonotic diseases.

Unfortunately, national responses to disease outbreaks are often based on very limited knowledge of the basic biology, or even the identity, of the pathogen and its wild host. As scientists, we believe that harnessing centuries of biological knowledge and resources from natural history collections can provide an informed road map to identify the origin and transmission of disease outbreaks.

These collections of animals, plants and fungi date back centuries and are the richest sources of information available about life on Earth. They are housed in museums ranging from the Smithsonian Institution to small colleges.

Together, the world’s natural history collections are estimated to contain more than three billion specimens, including preserved specimens of possible hosts of the coronaviruses that have led to SARS, MERS and COVID-19. They provide a powerful distribution map of our planet’s biodiversity over space and through time.

Preserved pathogens

How can researchers channel these collections toward disease discovery? Each specimen – say, a species of pitcher plant from Florida or a deer mouse from arid New Mexico – is catalogued with a scientific name, a collection date and the place where it was collected, and often with other relevant information. These records underpin scientists’ understanding of where host species and their associated pathogens are found and when they occurred there.

Connecting the site of a disease outbreak to potential pathogen hosts that occur in that area can help to pinpoint likely hosts, sources of pathogens, and pathways of transmission from hosts to humans and from one human to another. These natural history collections are connected worldwide through massive online databases, so a researcher anywhere in the world can find information on potential hosts in far-off regions.

But that’s just the beginning. A preserved specimen of a rodent, a bat or any other potential host animal in a collection also carries preserved pathogens, such as coronaviruses. This means that researchers can quickly survey microbes using specimens that were collected decades or more before for an entirely different purpose. They can use this information to quickly identify a pathogen, associate it with particular wild hosts, and then reconstruct the past distributions and evolution of disease-causing microbes and hosts across geographic space.

Many collections contain frozen samples of animal specimens stored in special low-temperature freezers. These materials can be quickly surveyed for microbes and possible human pathogens using genetic analysis. Scientists can compare DNA sequences of the pathogens found in animal specimens with the disease-causing agent to identify and track pathways of transmission.

Nitrogen freezers for cryo-preserving specimens in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History’s Biorepository. Donald E. Hurlbert/SmithsonianCC BY-ND

For example, museum specimens of deer mice at the University of New Mexico were key to the rapid identification of a newly discovered species of hantavirus that caused 13 deaths in the southwest United States in 1993. Subsequent studies of preserved specimens have revealed many new species and variants of hantaviruses in other rodents, shrews, moles and, recently, bats worldwide.

Equipping museums and connecting scientists

Natural history collections have the potential to help revolutionize studies of epidemics and pandemics. But to do this, they will need more support.

Even though they play a foundational role in biology, collections are generally underfunded and understaffed. Many of them lack recent specimens or associated frozen tissues for genetic analyses. Many regions of our planet have been poorly sampled, especially the most biodiverse countries near the tropics.

To leverage biodiversity science for biomedical research and public health, museums will need more field sampling; new facilities to house collections, especially in biodiverse countries; and expanded databases for scientists who collect the samples, analyze DNA sequences and track transmission routes. These investments will require increased funding and innovations in biomedical and biodiversity sciences.

Another challenge is that natural history curators and pathobiologists who study the mechanisms of disease work in separate scientific communities and are only vaguely aware of each other’s resources, despite clear benefits for both basic and clinical research. We believe now is the time to reflect on how to leverage diverse resources and build stronger ties between natural history museums, pathobiologists and public health institutions. Collaboration will be key to our ability to predict, and perhaps forestall, future pandemics.


Pamela Soltis, Joseph Cook, Richard Yanagihara

Museums preserve clues that can help scientists predict and analyze future pandemics

first published in “The Conversation” under a Creative Commons license

intentionality & the post-covid cultural landscape

Individually we are no match for nature. Together we are.

Stewart Simonsen, Assistant Director-General, World Health Organization; in conversation with Fareed Zakaria, GPS, 24 May 2020

Congress will have to think with knowledge that we will have another crisis.”

Gary Cohn, Former Director, National Economic Council, Former President & Chief Operating Officer, Goldman Sachs, in conversation with Fareed Zakaria, GPS, 24 May 2020

Given the health, governance, and legal risks posed by the coronavirus and the covid-19 response, a primary issue affecting us all, including galleries, museums, and cultural organizations around the world, has been how to limit its spread. As a prophylactic vaccine has not yet been developed, decisions were made to limit possible exposure and contagion by distancing people from one another. In many countries all organizations and enterprises except those providing what have been considered “essential” services were closed, museums included.

Museums are public spaces that welcome people through their doors into shared spaces to look at art together. They have had to grapple with the questions of whether or not and how to engage their audiences while closed. They grapple now with the question of how best to re-open while continuing to mitigate the risk of contagion and spread.

The learning curve has been steep and rapid. Marc Spiegler, Global Director of Art Basel, and museum leaders from Asia, Europe, and the United States addressed the learning curve and responses of the museum sector during a webinar discussion that took place on 21 May,  “How will the pandemic change institutions?

Dr. Zoé Whitley, director of the Chisenhale Gallery, London, Anne Pasternak, Shelby White and Leon Levy Director of the Brooklyn Museum, New York City, Phlip Tinari, director and CEO of the UCCA Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing, and Dr. András Szántó, author and cultural strategy advisor, New York City, shared their thoughts and perspectives on the missions, priorities, and activities of their organizations, how they were managing during the pandemic and concomitant shut-down, risks, risk management, and ways to make it possible to be back in physical spaces looking at art with other people.

“What roles should institutions play in the post-covid cultural landscape, assuming you can even guess what the landscape is going to be?”

Acknowledging that “we have a responsibility to re-think how we remain relevant to our audiences,” Dr. Whitley asked, “how do you start charting a new path under these incredibly strange circumstances?”

“I think that’s precisely the question,” she continues. “What might rank as the world’s worst hypothetical interview question: how would you lead an organization remotely in the midst of a global pandemic? And you would think it was so absurd as to be not really be able to entertain it. And yet here we are.”

While understanding that the pandemic and the global response caught many off guard, knowing what we now know, we may need to revisit underlying assumptions of absurdity and re-map our thinking. The pathogen and pandemic did not come out of nowhere.  See: “Q&A: Could climate change and biodiversity loss raise the risk of pandemics?“.

Pathogens such as the coronavirus that is causing the covid-19 response occur abundantly in nature. As we, through our many behaviors, draw closer to wild animals, for instance, and draw them closer to us, and unless we work consistently and with intention to acknowledge, manage, and mitigate risk, we may expect ever more such pandemics.

The UCCA Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing may serve as a case study. Having closed its doors on 24 January, the UCCA re-opened to the public on 21 May. 

Philip Tinari reflected on the disappearance of everyday routine during the closure, the mood of solemnity of everyday existence, the poignancy of being back in physical space looking at art with people,  and the freedom to enter into a public space and look at art.

He observed that while “it’s poignant and it’s just wonderful to be back in physical space looking at art with people, … that can only happen because of larger dynamics in the society.”

“The freedom to enter into a public space and look at art,” the freedom to enter the UCCA Center for Contemporary Art, and Beijing’s 798 Art District in which it is located, is afforded by measures taken to control the contagion and spread.

“To even enter into 798, one needs to have one’s temperature taken and one needs to show a kind of virtual pass which is generated by a government app that, you know, tracks your data and proves that you have not been in any high-risk areas for the last 14 days or 21 days, and even, in some cases, synchs to facial-recognition thermometers that are around town. So, there’s a complete panopticon, and we’re the indirect beneficiaries of it.

“And at our door, there’s another temperature check as there is at the entrance of any restaurant or store. And masking here is completely mandatory and universal. And so then it just becomes a question of how to be responsible and keep things disinfected and use our guards to keep people distanced.

From “How technology is safeguarding health and livelihoods in Asia,” Oliver Tonby, Jonathan Woetzel, Noshir Kaka, Wonsik Choi, Jeongmin Seong, Brant Carson, and Lily Ma,McKinsey & Company, 12 May 2020

“I guess all to say that we’re all kind of working inside the contexts where we find ourselves. And this one, for the draconian nature of certain measures, they paradoxically allow for the freedom to enter into a public space and look at art.”

As risks abound, continue, and even, arguably, increase, it is crucial to plan and conduct business smartly, in a forward-looking manner, clearly articulating desired outcomes, on the one had, and negative externalities, that are increasingly no longer external, on the other.

UCCA has postponed shows that were on the calendar for this year, “many of which involved intense overseas collaborations and were not going to happen as scheduled.” Yet, learning as early as early March that the museum re-opening would take place on 21 May, the first date also of the re-scheduled Beijing Gallery Week-end, Mr. Tinari and the museum curators realized “that there was no way we could get to May 21 and not have something to show everyone.”

“And so I sat in a room with my curators for about a week. And we came up with an exhibition that we titled “Meditations in an Emergency” after the Frank O’Hara anthology which kind of looks at the post-covid world from five different angles. Everything from the disappearance of everyday routine to the relationship between humans and animals to the proliferation of a sort of de-centered polyphonic or contradictory narrative around news and information.

“It’s a 26-artist group show that’s actually, I don’t mean to brag or anything, but it’s really beautifully installed. And it’s poignant and it’s just wonderful to be back in physical space looking at art with people.”

Zhang Hui, “Just Line in the Mirror 2” (2018, oil on canvas).
Credit: Zhang Hui and UCCA, Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing: “Meditations in an Emergency,” 21 May – 30 August 2020

Thinking forward, Mr. Tinari observes “a certain solemnity to just everyday existence now. People are ready to come. And in a way that’s a very not the worst frame of mind with which to enter into an exhibition.”

What he’s been calling “the new intentionality,” engaging in activities “with a very specific purpose and for a limited duration,” applies, he says, to programming as well. “It’s not that we won’t continue to do big international shows but we’ll do them for specific reasons with kind of very measurable goals in more measured ways.”


Art Basel, “How will the pandemic change institutions?“, YouTube, 22 May 2020

Oliver Tonby, Jonathan Woetzel, Noshir Kaka, Wonsik Choi, Jeongmin Seong, Brant Carson, and Lily Ma, “How technology is safeguarding health and livelihoods in Asia,” McKinsey & Company, 12 May 2020

Zoé Whitley, Star Curator Behind Acclaimed ‘Soul of a Nation’ Show, Named Director of London’s Chisenhale Gallery,” ARTnews, 17 January 2020

UCCA, Center for Contemporary Art, Meditations in an Emergency, 21 May 2020 – 30 August 2020

inflection point? · oil major tears up the industry’s financial playbook

In August 2014 Simon Evans of Carbon Brief, reporting on a white paper, “Fossil fuel divestment: a $5 trillion challenge,” published days earlier by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, noted that “‘fossil fuels are investor favourites for a reason’….fossil fuel investments have a history of strong performance.

BNEF looked at seven alternative trillion-dollar sectors and found that only shares in real estate firms have paid higher dividends in recent years than fossil fuel firms.”

(Simon Evans, “Why fossil fuel divestment won’t be easy,” Carbon Brief, 27 August 2014)

Fast forward to today. Due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, global energy demand in the first quarter of 2020 was 3.8% lower than in the same quarter of 2019. The IEA expects global energy demand for 2020 to decline by 6% year-on-year, a decline not seen for decades.

Annual rate of change in primary energy demand, %, since 1900, with key events impacting demand highlighted. Source: Josh Gabbatiss, “IEA: Coronavirus impact on CO2 emissions six times larger than 2008 financial crisis,” Carbon Brief, 30 April 2020; IEA Global Energy Review

The fossil fuel sector, consistently a source of large dividends over the years, is suddenly under market stress and scrutiny from investors.

While “most analysts expected the world’s largest Western super majors … to defend their dividend at almost any cost given how important the payouts are to North American investors” (Kevin Crowley, Exxon Freezes Dividend for First Time in 13 years Amid Crash, Bloomberg, 29 April 2020), Royal Dutch Shell, Europe’s largest oil company, shocked the investing world.

Shell both reduced its dividend, the first time it has done so since World War II, for Q1 2020 and, observing that it would be neither “wise” nor “prudent” nor “responsible” to do so, announced it will not follow industry practice of borrowing against its balance sheet to finance the dividend payment.

The Board of Royal Dutch Shell plc (“RDS” or the “Company”) today announced an interim dividend in respect of the first quarter of 2020 of US$ 0.16 per A ordinary share (“A Share”) and B ordinary share (“B Share”), reduced from the US$ 0.47 dividend for the same quarter last year.

The pace and scale of the societal impact of COVID 19 and the resulting deterioration in the macroeconomic and commodity price outlook is unprecedented. The duration of these impacts remains unclear with the expectation that the weaker conditions will likely extend beyond 2020.

“In response, Shell has taken decisive actions to reduce our spending and position our businesses to compete in the current lower commodity price environment and uncertain demand outlook.

“The Board of Royal Dutch Shell has taken the decision to reset its dividend to provide financial resilience and further flexibility to manage the uncertainty. Shell is taking the steps necessary to ensure that we are well-positioned for the eventual economic recovery.

(“Royal Dutch Shell plc first quarter 2020 interim dividend,” 30 April 2020)

Not only did the dividend reduction, coupled with CEO Ben van Beurden’s further announcement that Shell would not take on debt to fund its dividend payment, shock investors, it also “tore up the industry’s playbook.”

When the boss of Royal Dutch Shell Plc slashed his dividend on Thursday, he didn’t just shock investors,” Laura Hurst of Bloomberg commented, “he tore up the industry’s financial playbook.

For decades Big Oil has used the strength of a large balance sheet to borrow money when the going gets tough and keeps investors sweet until the next upward cycle.

As the coronavirus pandemic potentially causes lasting damage to energy demand, Europe’s largest oil company asked whether this strategy is sustainable.

“’I would say no,’ said Shell Chief Executive Officer Ben van Beurden. ‘It’s also not wise and prudent, nor even responsible, to pay out a dividend if you know for sure you have to borrow for it.‘”

(Laura Hurst, “Shell’s Dividend Cut Shows This Time is Different for Big Oil,” Bloomberg, 30 April 2020)

Norwegian multinational energy company Equinor (OSE:EQNR,NYSE:EQNR; formerly Statoil) announced on 23 April a cash dividend of US$ 0.09 per share for the first quarter 2020, a reduction of 67% compared to the dividend proposed for the fourth quarter 2019.  

On 28 April, BP announced an interim dividend of 10.50 cents per ordinary share for the first quarter of 2020.

Gaurav Sharma, Senior Contributor at Forbes, observing that whilst first quarter profits at BP have decreased by 67% on lack of oil demand and the crude oil price crash, the company “sprung a surprise for the market by maintaining the company’s 10.5 U.S. cents per share dividend payment, hiked by 2.4% as recently as February.”

The move,” Mr. Sharma noted, “will come as a relief to beleaguered U.K. income funds that have seen over $18.6 billion in payouts cancelled or suspended over the last six weeks.

Collectively, HSBC, GSK, Royal Dutch Shell, British American Tobacco and BP accounted for 40% of FTSE 100 dividend payouts in 2019. With BP promising to payout, HSBC holding back following regulatory pressure, GSK, BAT and Shell, which hasn’t failed to pay a dividend since the Second World War II, appear to be in the bag.”

(Gaurav Sharma, “Profits Slump 67% At BP But Oil Major Maintains Dividend Despite Coronavirus Downturn,” Forbes, 28 April 2020)

On 29 April, Exxon Mobil Corp., based in Irving, Texas and the largest oil company in the Western Hemisphere, announced that for the second quarter 2020 it will pay a dividend of 87 cents per share. This is the same amount that was paid per share for the first quarter of 2020.

For the first time in 13 years, ExxonMobil “froze” its second quarter dividend to the amount paid in the first quarter.

Kevin Crowley of Bloomberg notes “Before now, Exxon had an uninterrupted streak of April increases going back to 2007.”

Most analysts expected the world’s largest Western super majors, including Exxon, to defend their dividend at almost any cost given how important the payouts are to North American investors. Before today, Exxon was the third-largest dividend payer in the S&P 500 Index behind Microsoft Corp. and AT&T Inc., according to data compiled by Bloomberg.”

The freeze may not derail Exxon’s multi decade streak of annual increases,” Mr. Crowley continues. “Even if the company maintains quarterly payouts at the current level for the rest of 2020, the annual outlay will be $3.48 a share, or 1.5% above 2019.

“’It’s definitely a sign of the times and to be expected given the price environment,’ said Jennifer Rowland, an analyst at Edward D. Jones &Co. The payout is “secure” because the company has capacity to take on debt to fund it, she said. On an annualized basis, the dividend will cost Exxon almost $15 billion this year.”

(Kevin Crowley, Exxon Freezes Dividend for First Time in 13 years Amid Crash, Bloomberg, 29 April 2020)


Josh Gabbatiss, “IEA: Coronavirus impact on CO2 emissions six times larger than 2008 financial crisis,” Carbon Brief, 30 April 2020

First Quarter 2020 Interim Dividend,” Royal Dutch Shell Plc, 30 April 2020

Laura Hurst, “Shell’s Dividend Cut Shows This Time is Different for Big Oil, ” Bloomberg, 30 April 2020

Dividend Information, ExxonMobil dividends per common share,” Exxon Mobil, 29 April 2020

Kevin Crowley, “Exxon Freezes Dividend for First Time in 13 years Amid Crash,” Bloomberg, 29 April 2020

BPp.l.c. Group results, First quarter 2020“, 28 April 2020

Gaurav Sharma, “Profits Slump 67% At BP But Oil Major Maintains DividendDespite Coronavirus Downturn,” Forbes, 28 April 2020

Equinor reducing quarterly cash dividend for first quarter 2020 by 67%,” Equinor, 23 April 2020

Mikael Holter, “Norway Oil Giant Slashes Dividend to Weather Oil-Market Crash,” Bloomberg, 23 April 2020

Financial Times, “Shell dividend cut puts Big Oil investment case in focus” 

Simon Evans, “Why fossil fuel divestment won’t be easy,” Carbon Brief, 27 August 2014

Nathaniel Bullard, “Fossil fuel divestment: a $5 trillion challenge,” White Paper, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, 25 August 2014

Vermeer’s “The Milkmaid”

“So also Vermeer creates a story. A story of everyday life. And it’s amazing, I think, how he’s able to make this everyday scene into a monumental painting.”

Taco Dibbits, General Director of the Rijksmuseum

Put up for sale (for tax purposes) by the Six family in the early 20th century, “The Milkmaid” attracted the attention of American financier J. Pierpont Morgan who would have brought the painting out of the Netherlands.

“The Milkmaid” was, however, not sold to Mr. Morgan nor did it leave the Netherlands.

Instead the painting was acquired in 1908, together with 38 others also offered by the Six family, for 750,000 guilders by a consortium comprised of the Rijksmuseum, the government of the Netherlands, and the Rembrandt Society.

Successfully retained at home, “The Milkmaid” entered the protective custody of the Rijksmuseum where it has remained since.

Johannes Vermeer, “The Milkmaid” (c. 1660, oil on canvas)

“The Milkmaid,” painted in oil on canvas by Delft painter Johannes Vermeer in about 1660, describes a maid standing in the dairy kitchen of a Delft household making a bread pudding.

Bread, protected from the mice in a chest hanging by the window up on the wall, is readied in a basket on the table. A blue porcelain pitcher holds beer to be used as yeast. The milkmaid pours milk, delivered to the door from the countryside, from an earthenware pitcher.

Taco Dibbits spoke engagingly of “The Milkmaid” during his presentation of 26 January 2018 at the Yale University Art Gallery: “Understanding the Rijksmuseum: The History of a National Museum”.

“And then there is the first big intervention of the State. “The Milkmaid” by Vermeer, she was about to be sold to the US, and the Dutch said, ‘no, this cannot happen,’ and a committee was formed, in the Netherlands everything goes by committee, a committee was formed, consensus was reached, it was brought into Parliament, and it was unanimously decided that this painting  should be acquired for the country, and it has been in the Rijksmuseum since the the beginning of the 20thcentury.

“For Vermeer, it is incredible to see how well preserved it is. And it’s a large part of its magic.

“You really feel his brushstroke and the way he indicates the brittleness of the bread and the breadcrumbs

Johannes Vermeer, “The Milkmaid” (c. 1660, oil on canvas, detail)

“and the way he with little dots, you can still see them on the paint surface, and the way he depicts the dark blue skin of the milkmaid, she’s been cleaning, probably in cold water, the way he does that, and contrasts it with the dark blue behind it, it is an amazing painting.

“And it’s a painting that tells a story, a story of a lady, or a maid in  this case, standing in the dairy kitchen, a kitchen on the north. There is a window, but you see the mold. I always say it is the most beautiful plaster wall ever painted, you see the mold here. And the windows on the north, a small hole in the window to show that it’s really glass.

“Bread is in the chest, hanging up against mice.

Johannes Vermeer, “The Milkmaid” (c. 1660, oil on canvas, detail)

“You know it’s cold because there’s a stove here, with a little piece of pottery, within it hot coals.

“And here is the milk. The milk would be delivered at the door from the country, delivered at the door in large buckets.

Johannes Vermeer, “The Milkmaid” (c. 1660, oil on canvas, detail)

“And there is a pitcher with beer which is used as yeast.”

Johannes Vermeer, “The Milkmaid” (c. 1660, oil on canvas, detail)

Taco Dibbits, “Understanding the Rijksmuseum: The Story of a National Museum,” Yale University Art Gallery, 26 January 2018

“The Milkmaid” was “probably purchased from the artist by his Delft patron Pieter Claesz van Ruijven (1624-1674), who at his death appears to have owned twenty-one works by Vermeer.”

The twenty-one paintings were sold in 1696 from the estate of van Ruijven’s son-in-law, Jacob Dissius.

At this sale, “The Milkmaid” was described as “exceptionally good” and brought the second-highest price. (Vermeer’s “View of Delft,”c. 1660-1552, now in the collection of the Mauritshaus, The Hague, fetched the highest price, 200 guilders).

Auctioned in 1719, the painting belonged to at least five Amsterdam collections before it was acquired by one of the great collectors of Dutch art, Lucretia Johanna van Winter (1785 – 1845) who in 1822 married into the Six family of collectors.

Years later, in the early 20thcentury, heirs of the two sons of Lucretia Johanna van Winter intended to auction off “The Milkmaid” together with 38 other paintings in their collection. American financier, J. Pierpont Morgan, expressed interest in acquiring the painting.

In order to keep “The Milkmaid” in the Netherlands, the Rijksmuseum, with support from the Dutch government and the Rembrandt Society, purchased “The Milkmaid,” together with the other 38 paintings, in 1908 for 750,000 guilders.


The So-Called Dissius Auction (1696 sale of 124 paintings by the artmerchant Gerard Hoet)”, Essential Vermeer

The Milkmaid by Johannes Vermeer,” Walter A. Liedtke, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009, p. 22

The Milkmaid,” The Rijksmuseum

TacoDibbits, “Understanding the Rijksmuseum: The Story of a National Museum,”Yale University Art Gallery, 26 January 2018

Trio of gallery greats commence sales of works from the Donald B. Marron Family Collection

Good contemporary art reflects the society, and great contemporary art anticipates.

Donald B. Marron (quoted by Pace Gallery, “Acquavella Galleries, Gagosian and Pace to Handle Sale of Donald B. MarronFamily Collection”)

Kelly Crow of the Wall Street Journal has reported that two works by Pablo Picasso, “Femme au beret et la collerette” (Woman with Beret and Collar,” 1937) and “Seated Woman (Jacqueline)” (1962) have been sold from the Donald B. Marron Family Collection to collector Stephen Wynn. It is reported that Mr. Wynn paid approximately $105 million for the two paintings.

Sales of works from the family collection are being conducted by a collaboration of gallery greats – Pace Gallery, Gagosian, and Acquavella Galleries. Bill Acquavella (son of Acquavella Galleries founder Nicholas Acquavella), Larry Gagosian (founder of Gagosian), and Arne Glimcher (founder of Pace Gallery) each worked with Mr. Marron in the development of the collection.

The collaboration, “the first of its kind, signals a new way for families to handle the sales of their collections” (Gagosian).

Under the terms of the collaboration, the galleries are charged to work jointly and privately to place and sell the works in the market. They are charged, further, neither to disclose publicly what is or is not available for sale nor to disclose an estimate for the collection.

The collaboration appears to have been the brainchild of Marc Glimcher, son of Arne Glimcher and president of Pace Gallery.

Eileen Kinsella of Artnet News, reporting that the plan came together quickly, quotes Mr. Glimcher:

“’I heard that [the Marron family] were considering going to auction and I just picked up the phone and called Larry [Gagosian] and said, ‘We should really present an alternative to the family. It’s tragic for this collection to go to auction,’” Glimcher recalled.

“After reaching out to Bill Acquavella, who also had a longstanding relationship with Marron, “’we all came and presented an idea to the family of how we would do it” around a month ago.’”

The Acquavella family – sister, brothers, and father – came on board. Eleanor Acquavella, Bill Acquavella’s daughter, reports that they“’ liked the idea of competing with the auctions on a great estate.’” They acknowledged, however, that “it would be hard to pull off.'” The galleries would be required to “’compete financially,'” and otherwise, to win to the business.

Indeed. Financial guarantees for the collection, in the amount of $300 million, had been offered by auction houses Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Phillips.

Especially in the face of those guarantees, “’“the key,’” observed Gagosian’s COO Andrew Fabricant, “’was to meet the fiduciary requirements of an estate, which is complicated.

“‘We had to convince the family and the lawyers. The challenge was to be in line and competitive and still have some daylight for running with an exhibition and sales.”

A joint New York exhibition of May and June, is being organized by the three galleries. Including works from the family collection together with loans from institutions,  the exhibition “will chronicle Marron’s collecting activities, including his early acquisitions in the 1960s and 1970s, his museum stewardship, and his pioneering work reinventing how corporations build art collections around a singular vision.”


Kelly Crow, “Steve Wynn Pays $105 Million for Pair of Picassos,” The Wall Street Journal, 24 February 2020

Eileen Kinsella, “The $450 Million Marron Collection Is the Art Market’s Ultimate Prize. Now, Three of the World’s Top Rival Galleries Are Joining Forces to Sell It,” Artnet, 19 February 2020

Acquavella Galleries, Gagosian, and Pace to Handle Sale of Donald B. MarronFamily Collection,” Gagosian

Acquavella Galleries, Gagosian and Pace to Handle Sale of Donald B. Marron Family Collection,” Pace Gallery

Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894): “La Rue Halévy, vue du sixième étage”

Offered at the Sotheby’s New York Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale of 14 May 2019 with an estimate of US $6 – $8 million, Gustave Caillebotte’s “La Rue Halévy, vue du sixième étage” (oil on canvas, 1878) sold for US $13,932,000 (with fees).

Hasso Plattner, co-founder of the German software company SAP, SE, is said by The Canvas to have purchased the painting. Mr. Platter founded the Barberini Museum that opened in Potsdam in 2017. A member of “The Giving Pledge” established by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, per Forbes magazine he is the 94th richest person in the world.

Gustave Caillebotte, “La Rue Halévy, vue du sixième étage” (oil on canvas, 1878)

Hasso Plattner’s collecting focus is the art both of the Impressionists and of the German Democratic Republic. He is said to be the buyer also of Monet’s “Meules” of 1890. “Meules” remained in the collection of Bertha Honoré Palmer and her family for nearly a century, also selling at Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale of 14 May 2019 for $97 million (hammer) / $110,747,000 (with fees).

Caillebotte (1848 – 1884) exhibited “La Rue Halévy, vue du sixième étage” in the Fourth Impressionist Exhibition of 1879.

Napoleon III had introduced ambitious reforms during the 1860s, charging Georges-Eugène Haussmann with a radical reconfiguration of the then medieval city.

Space was created by razing many parts of Paris, developing a grid of straight roads, avenues, boulevards, and modern apartment buildings with grand balconies and large windows that faced the street, offering views of the boulevards below.

Caillebotte – lawyer and engineer by training as well as artist – explored the modern Paris in his work, adopting viewpoints high above the busy city streets.

The elevated vantage point of “La Rue Halévy, vue du sixième étage” afforded Caillebotte the freedom to view and manipulate perspective, tilting the ground of the picture plane in a manner that has been considered characteristic of his work and one of his greatest contributions in the move towards Modernism.


Art Industry News: Did a German Software Billionaire Buy Monet’s $111 Million Haystacks? + Other Stories,” Artnet News, 16 May 2019

Gustave Caillebotte, “La Rue Halévy, vue du sixième étage,” Lot 17, Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale, 14 May 2019, Sotheby’s New York, Catalogue Note

Kelly Crow,”Monet Sells for $110.7 Million, Setting Artist and Impressionist Records,” Wall Street Journal, 14 May 2019

Kelly Crow, @KellyCrow, Tweet, 14 May 2019;

Kelly Crow, @KellyCrowWSJ, Tweet, 15 May 2019

Katya Kazakina, @theartdetective, Tweet, 14 May 2019

Catherine Hickley, “Software billionaire plans to turn decaying Potsdam restaurant into museum for East German art,” The Art Newspaper, 2 April 2019

your money, your life, your choice ・ the painting that did not sell

The painting that did not sell.

While there may be a well-established “cartel of taste” (see Anna Louie Sussman’s article “Why You Can’t Always Buy a Work of Art Just Because You Have the Cash,” @artsy, 12 December 2018), market stakeholders can and sometimes do display independent judgment.

Gerhard Richter’s “Schädel” (oil on canvas), the first of a series of eight skull paintings painted in 1983, was held in the same collection for 30 years after a last public exhibition in 1988.

Based on a photograph taken by Richter himself, the painting demonstrates a “dialogue between painterly abstraction and photo-realist representation that had been simmering across separate stands of Richter’s practice for nearly two decades.”

This painting led the Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale held at Christie’s London on 4 October 2018.

With an unpublished estimate, the painting was expected to sell for between £12 and £18 million (US$15 – US$23 million).

Bidding reached £11.5 million. The painting was not allowed to change hands.

Note also the instance of Edward Hopper’s 1972 painting, “Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)” that sold at Christie’s in New York on 15 November. It closed narrowly, at what may have been a precisely agreed threshold of $80 million – with what appeared to be Christie’s bidding against itself to reach the sales price.


Why You Can’t Always Buy a Work of Art Just Because You Have the Cash,” Anna Louie Sussman, Artsy, 12 December 2018

Seen for the first time in 30 years: Gerhard Richter’s ‘Schädel’ (‘Skull’),” Christie’s

Gerhard Richter ‘Skull’ to Headline Christie’s Sale in London,” Fang Block, Barron’s, 4 September 2018

Rare Richter’s a Bust, but Christie’s Moves $25.9 M. Bacon, $21 M. Fontana at London Sales,” Judd Tully, Artnews, 4 October 2018


collections care & engineered resilience

As the markets for works of art, collections care, and engineered resilience in the built environment (private collections, museums – public and private, galleries, fairs, corporate and university collections, etc.) converge, renewable energy will be a factor.

“Underlying property increases in value by virtue of the fact that positive externalities associated with the performance of the resilience investments represents a superior outcome to the status quo – even when netted out by any costs.” (Keenan

Companies have signed long-term contracts to purchase solar and wind energy in 28 markets.

Cost declines and efficiency improvements are making renewables cost-competitive with wholesale power prices of more traditional sources of electricity.

While larger corporations are entering into corporate power purchase agreements (PPA),

smaller companies are increasingly pooling electricity demand together to access economies of scale achieved through solar and wind projects.

This is called “aggregation.”

“Aggregation” might be a workable model for entities in the art market concerned about the long-term resilience of structures and care and value of works and collections.

See: 1) Jesse M. Keenan, Thomas Hill, Anurag Gumber, “Climate Gentrification: From Theory to Empiricism in Miami-Dade County,” IOPScience, 23 April 2018; 2) “Corporations Already Purchased Record Clean Energy Volumes in 2018, and It’s Not an Anomaly,” Bloomberg New Energy Finance, 9 August 2018


#art #artmarket #museum #privatemuseum #collection #contemporaryart #energy #co2 #wind #solar #renewableenergy #resilience #resilienceengineering #architecture #design #engineering #NewYork #Miami #LosAngeles #London #Paris #Amsterdam #Stockholm #Oslo #Berlin #Vienna #Dubai #HongKong #Shanghai #Beijing #Tokyo #Delhi #realestate

Dan Colen

Dan Colen’s “TBT” (chewing gum and gum wrappers on canvas, in artist’s frame, 2008) sold at the Phillips Auction New York Contemporary Art Day sale of 17 May 2013 for $305,000.

Born in Leonia, New Jersey in 1979 and a 2001 BFA graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, Dan Colen has long questioned the “editorial decisions artists have to make when creating a scene from scratch on canvas.”

Stepping away from paint as a medium in 2006, Colen started using chewing gum. In 2008 he wrote, “When I first started, the canvases were very sparse … It slowly developed into a more elaborate and involved process. I started adding a lot more gum to each canvas; I would put pieces down, pick them up again, move ’em around, stretch them out, mush ’em together, and mix flavors to create new colors”.

Dan Colen creates his work in a variety of media – painting, sculpture, photography, performance, and installation – from a variety of materials including gum, dirt, grass, tar, feathers, and street trash from the street.

He examines cultural mythologies and archetypes, the boundaries between “high” and “low” art, and the artist’s measure of “control” over the behavior of a given material.

Dan Colen’s recent “Purgatory” (2017) is a work of strong imagination and probing. On view at New York’s Lévy Gorvy Gallery, that now collaborates with Gagosian and Massimo De Carlo to represent Mr. Colen, stylistically it is as if by another artist entirely. Oil on canvas in deep reds and black, the painting draws the viewer frighteningly in along a diagonal through a tunnel of dark clouds back towards a receding glow.

Mr. Colen’s works are in a number of public and private collections including New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C.’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Buffalo’s Albright-Knox Art GalleryLACMA, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Oslo’s Astrup Fearnley Museet, Stockholm’s Moderna Museet, the Dakis Joannou Collection in Athens, Miami’s de la Cruz Collection, and Puerto Rico’s Jiménez-Colón Collection.



Dan Colen, “TBT,” 2008, Phillips Contemporary Art Day, New York, 17 May 2013, Lot 125

Dan Colen, Gagosian

Dan Colen, Lévy Gorvy

Lévy Gorvy to Represent Dan Colen in Collaboration with Gagosian, Massimo De Carlo,” Sarah Douglas, ArtNews, 31 May 2017

R8 Property’s energy positive Powerhouse Telemark

Powerhouse Telemark, an energy positive (producing more energy than it consumes) 6,500-square-meter (70,000-square-foot), 11-story office building, has been commissioned by real estate developer Emil Eriksrød for the Norwegian town of Porsgrunn.

Eriksrød has commissioned the American-Norwegian architecture and design firm Snøhetta to design the building. Powerhouse Telemark is set to be completed in February of 2019.

 “The future is all about thinking big, bold, and long term,” says Snøhetta founding partner Kjetil Trædal Thorson, “and we need someone to pave the way. With its innovative solutions and design, we believe this building will inspire commercial real estate developers worldwide to push the limits of what buildings can accomplish”.

“The world needs a lot of energy-positive buildings,” observes the developer, Emil Eriksrød, CEO of R8 Property. “I hope we will be plagiarized and copied, replicated in all seven continents.”

“This building should do wonders in lowering the bar for daring to do both spectacular and environmentally forward buildings, hopefully in a combination”.


Snøhetta Designs World’s Northernmost Energy Positive Building in Norway,” Patrick Lynch, ArchDaily, 18 January 2017

Snøhetta designs ‘potentially world-changing office building’ for small Norwegian town,” Amy Frearson, Dezeen, 19 January 2017


#powerhousetelemark #emileriksrød #r8property # snøhetta #porsgrunn #norway #design #architecture #engineering #realestatedevelopment #realestate #commercialrealestate #energy #energypositive #solar #solarenergy #co2 #resilience #luxury #art #artmarket #collections #collectionsmanagement #museums #newyork #berlin #milan #beijing #shanghai #hongkong #seoul #taipei #jakarta #singapore