High Museum receives gift of Impressionist, modernist paintings

The High Museum of Art announced Tuesday the gift of a collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings from Atlanta philanthropists Doris and Shouky Shaheen.

The collection includes work by Claude Monet, Amedeo Modigliani, Camille Pissarro and  Henri Matisse.

"It's an incredible addition to our European holdings," said the High's director Rand Suffolk. "Truly overnight it will add an incredible boost, fitting hand in glove, building strength on strength with our existing European collection."

It's the most significant gift of European art to the High since 1958 when the Samuel H. Kress Foundation gave the museum 27 paintings and three sculptures by Italian masters, providing the foundation for the museum's collection.

The gift includes paintings by artists entering the High’s collection for the first time: Henri Fantin-Latour, Henri Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani and Alfred Sisley.

The Shaheens first began buying art in the early 1970s, acquiring a work by Fauvist painter Maurice de Vlaminck, from an Atlanta gallery.

Later they began shopping the auctions of Sotheby’s and Christie’s. Those auction houses became familiar with the Shaheen collection, and hoped to see some of the Shaheen pictures sold through their auspices.

“Christie’s and Sothebys have been after me for a long time,” said Shouky Shaheen, 90, “but this is a far better cause, to have them posted locally. The museum needs paintings.”

In honor of the gift, the High announced it will name a gallery in the Stent Family Wing the Doris and Shouky Shaheen Gallery, and will display the Shaheen collection in that gallery later this year.

The Shaheens have made financial gifts to Piedmont Hospital, to help establish the Doris Shaheen Breast Health Center and to expand the hospital's emergency room facilities.

In 2007 Doris Shaheen endowed the Shouky Shaheen Lecture series at the University of Georgia’s Lamar Dodd School of Art. The gift that established the lecture series was a birthday surprise for her husband.

Doris and Shouky Shaheen have given to other schools, including the University of Memphis and Birzeit University on the West Bank in Palestine.

Shouky Shaheen is the founder of Shaheen and Company, a developer of warehouse space in metro Atlanta. According to the Shaheen and Company website, it owns and manages more than 4.5 million square feet of multi-tenant business parks and distribution facilities.

There are three paintings by Claude Monet in the collection, including “Maison au bord de la route” from 1885.

The collection also includes three works by Camille Pissarro, one of which is “Paysanne assise” from 1882, a portrait of a peasant woman.

Suffolk declined to estimate the value of the gift, but said “It’s fair to say its value, from a monetary standpoint, would have put it out of reach for the institution, given our resources.”

Earlier this year a single painting of haystacks by Monet sold for $110 million at auction.

Some highlights of the Shaheen collection:

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, “La bohemiènne à mandoline assise” (ca. 1860s–1870s): A portrait of a young girl holding a mandolin.

Henri Fantin-Latour, “Grand bouquet de chrysanthèmes” (1882): A still-life of flowers.

Henri Matisse, “Femme assise devant son piano (Marguerite)” (ca. 1924): An oil on canvas, this is a study for a larger painting by Matisse. It’s one of two works by Matisse included in the gift.

Amedeo Modigliani, “Portrait de Beatrice Hastings” (1914): This is the first Modigliani to enter the High’s collection.

Camille Pissarro, “Paysanne assise” (1882): One of three works by Pissarro included in the gift, this one features a portrait of a peasant woman.

Alfred Sisley, “Une rue à Marly” (1876): There are four Sisley paintings in the gift; including this landscape.

The Shaheens still have a few paintings to adorn their Buckhead home -- a Wyeth or two -- but right now the only memories of the Impressionist collection are the leftover anti-theft wiring and the spotlights pointing at nothing.

But that’s OK with Shouky Shaheen. “These walls have been occupied by these paintings for 30 years or so,” he said. “I’m going to see what clean walls look like for a while.”