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Matthew Rutenberg (1956-2019) was a seemingly omnipresent—and yet perpetually mysterious—figure in the art world. Born and raised near St. Petersburg, Florida, he developed a lifelong passion for art at a young age, and well before he took any courses in the history of art was already completely familiar with the collections at the Ringling Museum in nearby Sarasota. He was educated at Harvard and even as an undergraduate was recognized to have an extraordinary knowledge of Western art history. He later studied at the Warburg Institute in London and was briefly an assistant curator at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, but then moved to New York and for most of his working career was associated with the art market. He seemed to know everyone, and with his extraordinary memory, everything about the market for Old Masters. He would recall paintings sold years before, by whom and to whom, and when walking through the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Getty, or many other museums could effortlessly rattle off long tales about the provenance of the works on view and any drama that lay behind their acquisition. Matthew was never, however, a public figure, but instead a consultant and advisor both to important dealers and major collectors in America and abroad. Similarly, he wrote a handful of pieces for the New York Times and the New York Review of Books but was also the long-time confidant of many writers and critics at those publications. Matthew was indeed a kind of éminence grise, a quiet presence behind the scenes, but one who would be recognized by anyone who regularly attended Old Master auctions, lectures, or exhibitions, even if many never understood his role. He was generous and loved to assist museums, bringing works to the attention of curators he admired and steering donations to many institutions including the Metropolitan, the Ashmolean, the Fitzwilliam, the Yale University Art Gallery and British Art Center, the Harvard Art Museums, and of course, the Ringling and the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg. Following his wishes, some works from his estate will be donated to these museums and others. A lover of life, a devoted friend, and a perpetually entertaining raconteur with a famously wry sense of humor, Matthew—and his endless store of stories about the art world—will be dearly missed.

Matthew’s own collections were as wide-ranging as his interests, but with a few areas of particular concentration. His own academic interests led him above all to the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries across all the European schools: his rare painting by Philippe-Auguste Hennequin, and a large drawing by a member of Hennequin’s circle, are typical of his interest in David and his followers, but Matthew was also able to recognize the Swede Pehr Hilleström as the artist responsible for a scene of Smiths at Work in a Foundry, which he acquired as anonymous. Nineteenth century oil sketches, especially landscapes, were another focus, and again, these include examples from well-known French artists like Achille Michallon and Paul Huet as well as Danish artists like Thorvald Laessoe. Many of those who associated Matthew with the market for Old Masters were surprised by his interest in modern British art (Tony Bevan was a particular favorite) or contemporary artists such as Bruno Ceccobelli. But it was especially in the area of Old Masters that he loved to find the overlooked or miscatalogued items, especially in smaller auctions: his Three Franciscans by Giuseppe Gambarini, for example, was simply catalogued as eighteenth-century Roman school when Matthew bought it at auction. He also had a temperamental weakness for the unattributed work of high quality, and he made a regular habit of calling friends and colleagues, directing them to some upcoming work, and challenging them to find an attribution. There are more than a few such works in his own collection too, such as the seventeenth-century French Flight into Egypt that still awaits full identification.

-John Marciari

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Thursday, July 23 at 11am
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Thursday, July 2

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