The Corcoran artwork is hardly the only recent acquisition the National Gallery has made. In 2013, while Beinecke was a trustee, the gallery acquired “The Concert,” a 1623 painting by Dutch painter Gerrit van Honthorst, after a curator was offered the painting; previously, it had resided undetected in a French chateau for nearly two centuries.
Although the National Gallery is operated by the federal government, all of its acquisitions are made with private donations. In consultation with the curatorial staff, the president and board of trustees officially approve every acquisition, loan and gift the gallery makes, as well as deciding which pieces require conservation. During Beinecke’s time as president, he also saw completion of a massive renovation of the gallery’s East Building, which included the creation of new exhibition galleries and upgrades to everything from its heating and cooling systems to the installation of Wi-Fi.
Not only does the National Gallery acquire and display art, it also loans pieces to other museums. During a recent trip to Paris, Beinecke noted pieces from the National Gallery’s collection on loan to three different special exhibitions there. Each new president of the United States is also permitted to borrow art to hang in the White House. “During an inauguration, the gallery staff is removing the prior president’s choices and hanging the new ones, so that by the time the new president gets to the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, there’s a different art collection up,” Beinecke said. Cabinet secretaries, Supreme Court justices and certain foreign embassies also have borrowing privileges.
After graduating from Yale University with a degree in art history, Beinecke joined the Marine Corps and served in Vietnam as a lieutenant, receiving a Bronze Star, before coming to UVA for law school. He has been managing director of Antaeus Enterprises Inc., a private investment company; president and director of The Sperry Fund; and vice president and director of the Prospect Hill Foundation, a philanthropy run by his family.
Beinecke’s interest in art was rekindled in the 1990s, when he became a trustee of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, which has donated hundreds of works of art to regional museums around the country. (He is also a former trustee of the Sterling & Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts, and former director and president of the New York City Ballet.)
He recently came across another of his favorite paintings, El Greco’s “St. Francis Venerating the Crucifix,” at an exhibition in the Grand Palais in Paris. The painting was given by the Kress Foundation to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco in 1961 to honor the city named for St. Francis, and Beinecke said he has seen it many times there.
Whether at the National Gallery or at museums around the world, Beinecke recognizes the thrill that comes with encountering an iconic or beautiful work of art.
“Many people have told me it’s so wonderful to go see these pictures,” he said. “They say, ‘I remember this one from a book or from a course I took in school.’ And they’re all there.”