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Masterwork owned by Dassel, Minn., church is donated to Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Christus Consolator
Courtesy of the Van Gogh Museum
The earliest of Ary Scheffer’s “Christ the Comforter” (“Christus Consolator”) paintings hangs in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

In August 2007, Steven Olson, pastor of Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Dassel, Minn., sought out Minneapolis Institute of Arts paintings curator Patrick Noon. Olson needed advice about how to care for and authenticate the origins of a mysterious painting belonging to the church that had been languishing for years in storage.

You can imagine Noon’s surprise and disbelief when, in the storage vault of the small town’s Wells Fargo branch, he saw an authentic version of the famous 19th century religious painting “Christ the Comforter” (“Christus Consolator”), by Dutch-born Romantic painter Ary Scheffer (1795-1858). It turns out the masterwork had been hiding in rural Minnesota, unrecognized, for 70 years.

Scheffer’s painting — featuring Christ, arms outstretched to console the miserable masses surrounding him — was one of the landmark religious artworks of the mid-1800s, disseminated widely in engravings and other reproductions (including an 1856 lithograph by Currier & Ives).

The earliest and largest of Scheffer’s versions of this painting, which made a sensational debut in Paris 1837, hangs in Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum. Throughout the 1850s, the artist revived the image in a series of new, smaller “Christ the Comforter” paintings; it is one of these later pieces, completed in 1851, which was discovered in this rural Minnesota church’s holdings.

According to the museum’s press release Monday, “after a year of careful research and deliberation, Gethsemane Lutheran Church decided to donate the painting to the MIA, which, in turn, has undertaken the conservation and reframing of this significant painting. It will now occupy pride of place in the MIA’s 19th-century paintings galleries.”

Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Michael Jefferis on 03/31/2009 - 09:54 am.

    The article begs for some details:

    How many versions did Ary Scheffer paint of this scene? Was it common at the time for artists to paint multiples of a popular composition?

    Does anyone in Dassel know how and when the church came to posses the painting? How did they know it was worth enough to be kept in a vault? (Is this a spill-over effect of Antiques Road Show?) Or was it in the vault pre ARS?

    What else is in this church’es “holdings” – do they have a vault full of art, or what?

    Is the picture on display now at MIA, or about when might it be available?


  2. Submitted by Susannah Schouweiler on 03/31/2009 - 11:10 am.

    Good questions, all, Michael. Thank you! I’ll find out and post a follow-up here shortly.

  3. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 03/31/2009 - 02:23 pm.

    While I love the MIA (and look forward to viewing this piece there) it seems as though Minnesotans would be better served if the flow of art were in the other direction.

    What I mean is: the Twin Cities (to be frank, Minneapolis) is the cultural center of Minnesota. If any place in Minnesota needs more art, it is tiny out-state places like Dassel that are otherwise lacking in art. Churches are the perfect place for this – their religious message is furthered by pieces like this, so they have incentive to maintain them. The MIA (in a program that would be funded most appropriately by the state) could loan out religious pieces to small town churches, and have a roving band of curators advising on the maintenance and display of the art. The churches would have to agree to open house hours, but with the advent of wi-fi, what is stopping the pastors from office-ing out of the sanctuary? The program could be paid for by a statewide tax on chain stores and restaurants, which inherently damage the culture of small town Minnesota.

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