EYES ON THE PRIZE: Friends of prominent artist Maud Morgan (inset) donated funds to the MFA to establish an annual prize in her honor. but now no prize has been awarded since 2006. (Featured above is Morgan’s oil on canvas Outremer, 1986.)
In 1993, on the occasion of her 90th birthday, friends of prominent Cambridge artist Maud Morgan donated funds to Boston's Museum of Fine Arts to establish a prize in her name. (She died six years later.) The Maud Morgan Purchase Prize would celebrate under-appreciated mid-career Massachusetts female artists.
Beginning that year, the MFA give the prize to one artist annually, and has since so honored 13 artists, the last being Ambreen Butt in 2006. Butt's work was showcased at the MFA and she received $5000 in exchange for one of her paintings entering the museum's collection. But though the MFA said the Morgan Purchase Prize "was permanently endowed through fundraising by friends of the esteemed artist in 1997," the MFA has not awarded the prize to any artist since Butt.
It's easy to miss things when they disappear — stuff that's gone doesn't call attention to itself. But last week, while doing some unrelated research, I was reminded of the Morgan Purchase Prize. So I e-mailed the MFA to inquire about its status.
"The prize is currently being evaluated in an effort to make its impact as substantive as possible for future recipients," a museum spokeswoman responded a few days later. "We expect to continue the award tradition in 2010."
Morgan was born into the esteemed New York Cabot family. In the 1920s, she met Ghandi in India and hung around with James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway in Paris. In France, she also met artist Patrick Morgan, whom she married. In the late '30s, they returned to New York, where she exhibited her art alongside Rothko and Pollock. The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Whitney Museum bought her paintings. Then her husband got a teaching job at Phillips Academy in Andover, and the couple relocated.
When Morgan died at age 96, the abstract artist was hailed as "Boston's Modernist doyenne." But she had long believed her move to the New England suburbs permanently sidelined her art career. "I was in just the right hot spot," she told the BostonGlobe in 1996. "I think I could have made it into — I'm not saying the top echelon ? but I could have made . . . a certain kind of fame."
That detail highlights the sad irony of the MFA neglecting a prize founded to honor unappreciated female artists. In addition, the lapse in awards has subtracted one of the few opportunities for local artists to show in our most prominent local museums. The MFA is finishing up a renovation and expansion project that is scheduled to conclude with the opening of a new American Wing in November 2010. That would be the perfect occasion for the museum to reaffirm its commitment to locally made art.