Donald D. MacDermid: Philanthropist & Collector

08/24/2023     General, Furniture & Decorative Arts, General Paintings

Donald D. MacDermid (1942-2022) was educated at TASIS The American School in Switzerland, Class of 1961, Middlebury College, and Rhode Island School of Design. Donald was a talented artist, a world traveler, and a lover of art. It was at TASIS and his very early travels throughout Europe that Donald developed a sophisticated eye for beauty and design that was always infused with a sense of whimsy.

Donald later expanded his travels to all seven continents, fully immersing himself in other cultures. He was equally at home in London, India, Boston, San Francisco, New York City, and South Africa. Donald eventually moved from Boston, Massachusetts to Chester, Connecticut, purchasing the 1826 Charles Daniels House that he lovingly restored and elegantly furnished with his unique collection of art, jewelry, silver, and furniture curated from his years of travel.

Throughout his life TASIS held a special place in his heart. A transfer student from the Dublin School in New Hampshire in 1959, it was here that Donald met Mrs. Fleming, the Founder of TASIS The American School in Switzerland, who had a significant impact on Donald’s life. Mrs. Fleming encouraged Donald to stay on for a postgraduate year to take further advantage of the rich cultural environment in the heart of Europe. Donald flourished, excited to return to TASIS and work in the summer program for several years, following his graduation.

TASIS transformed Donald’s life. In his words, “TASIS changed my life. It made me who I am.” Donald remained a proud alumnus and dedicated supporter for more than 60 years. His legacy gift to TASIS will fund two buildings, the MacDermid Academic and Residential Hall and the MacDermid Music Center, and establish the MacDermid Endowment Fund for the Fine & Performing Arts.

The Collection

Fine Art

The remarkable diversity of Donald MacDermid’s art collection reflects the character of the man himself. Donald was passionate about international travel and viewed art as a way to understand and remember the places he visited, the people he met, and the cultures he encountered. He was particularly fond of London, making many trips there to visit friends and to explore the city’s museums. Accordingly, British art is featured prominently in his collection, with several of its highlights showcasing his varied art interests.

The celebration of the male form is a cornerstone of the MacDermid collection, which features two oil paintings of this subject by Henry Scott Tuke and Edwin Augustus John. Painting en plein air, Tuke created work that was emblematic of British naturalism in the early 20th century. His most important paintings portray youthful men swimming or lounging by the Cornish coast. In Boy on a Beach, Tuke employs impressionist brushstrokes to capture the confluence of shifting light and the contours of the seated figure. The exquisite balance of these elements allows the viewer to breathe in the atmosphere of the scene and to feel the quiet calm of this moment.

The male bather is also featured in a work by Edwin Augustus John. The painting depicts the artist’s friend and pupil, Henry Lamb, perched on a high rock formation. The cool blue and purple pigments of the rocks contrast strongly with the warmer tones of the figure’s skin and his striped swim trunks. The artist’s loose brushstrokes forcefully convey the pensive model’s presence with a powerful feeling of tactile reality. Both Tuke’s Boy on a Beach and John’s Henry Lamb Bathing achieve their beauty by holding the figure in the highest regard.

Donald’s appreciation for British art extended beyond paintings. One particularly important work in the collection is an iconic piece of 20th century British sculpture conceived by Charles Sargeant Jagger, Maquette for The Driver, Royal Artillery Memorial. In his walks through the streets and parks of London, Donald would have certainly come upon the Royal Artillery Memorial on Hyde Park Corner, an imposing monument commemorating the men of the Royal Regiment of Artillery killed or injured in the First World War. Jagger was chosen to design the memorial in part because of his own experience serving in the military. The monument features amodel howitzer in stone surrounded by four soldiers in bronze, including The Driver. The soldier stands with arms outstretched, suggesting a crucifixion, however the figure’s imposing stance overwhelmingly exudes strength, power, and resilience. The Maquette’s presence in the MacDermid collection is an homage to both British art and history, and perhaps Donald’s family history. His uncle and namesake, Lt. Donald R. MacDermid was killed in action fighting for the British in World War I.

Across from The Driver in one of the rooms in Donald’s Greek Revival home, one could find a work by the pre-eminent sculptor Barry Flanagan. Hare on Globe Form showcases a trademark theme that the artist began to explore in the late 1970s. Fascinated with anthropomorphism, Flanagan created hares that display a wide array of human qualities, ranging from dejection to mischievousness to unbridled joy. The hare is a motif that Flanagan employed to comment on the human condition, but the animal also has a rich history steeped in symbolism from ancient cultures around the world. It could be that Flanagan’s work and his hares resonated with Donald on this level, but the placement of Hare on Globe Form in the home also speaks to the collector’s sense of humor and his understated wit. In the same room one could also find a puppet of a plush rabbit in a magician’s hat.

Decorative Arts

If the walls of Donald’s Greek Revival residence were stacked salon-style with fine art, around each corner was another carefully conceived vignette of furniture, silver, glass and other decorative arts. The house was furnished in the Empire style, along with works by modern designers, including Edward Wormley and Charles and Ray Eames. There was also a sprinkling of Hollywood glamor – such as the prop desk from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Rex Harrison’s metamorphic chair, which were a tribute to Donald’s love of old movies and his passion for theater.

In the 1990s, Donald focused his collecting interests on Albert Paley, a well-known jewelry and metal artist who worked in large and small formats, making both ornamental and useful art. The sale includes a dining table, a monumental floor lamp, and fire tools in Paley’s signature forged iron style.

Donald’s travels took him to Venice, where he was introduced to the centuries-old tradition of Italian glass blowing. His collection includes numerous superb examples by Fulvio Bianconi for Venini, including an undulating Pezzato vase and several whimsically colored and asymmetrical I Balona del Redentor vases from later in his career.

Donald filled his home with lovely examples of Georgian and Victorian silver, including a number of pieces with Royal provenance. Donald purchased from the finest shops in New York and London, such as Tiffany, Asprey, Cartier, and S. J. Phillips. During his time living in Boston, Donald obtained a set of Paul Revere Colonial silver spoons from Firestone, the well-known Boston jeweler. His travels throughout the world encouraged him to collect examples of Indian Colonial and Cape South African silver. His sense of humor is evident in his various novelty pieces, such as frog-form and lipstick tube casters.

When it came to jewelry, Donald loved Patek Philippe timepieces and Tiffany watches. His cufflinks range from sophisticated to whimsical. Gold lighting pendants and jeweler Gabriella Kiss’s praying mantis and leaf brooch are two unusual creations that highlight his eye for both beauty and design.

In sum, the MacDermid collection is the story of Donald’s life viewed through the art, silver, jewelry, and furniture acquired in his international travels and proudly displayed in his Greek Revival home. With proceeds from the sale of the collection to be donated to TASIS The American School in Switzerland, Donald has ensured that his legacy gift will enhance the lives of future generations of TASIS students, as they travel through life and discover their own passions.

Property from the Estate of Donald D. MacDermid Sold to Benefit TASIS The American School in Switzerland

Auction Wednesday, September 13, 2023 at 10am
Exhibition September 9 - 11

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