I can’t believe my eyes; right in front of me, there’s a masterful pastel by Degas, an exquisite etching by Rembrandt and stunning watercolors by Cézanne and Winslow Homer. No, I’m not at The Louvre in Paris or the Metropolitan Museum Of Art in Manhattan, but rather, in the off-limits-to-the-public vault at Glens Falls’ The Hyde Collection, just 25 minutes northeast of Saratoga Springs. The local art museum owns approximately 5000 pieces, including paintings, sculptures, decorative arts, textiles, books and furniture—with only around 500 ever on display at one time. The other 4500 sit “backstage,” held in the museum’s vault and archives.
Do these little-known treasures ever see the light of day? “Most of what’s in the vault is there, because it’s light-sensitive,” says Jonathan Canning, the Hyde Collection’s director of curatorial affairs and programming. “That includes textiles, photos and pastels.” The museum follows a strict protocol of displaying works such as the ones mentioned above for only three months every two to three years. The rest of that time, the pieces are in storage or “sleeping.”
Items might also be stored in the Hyde’s vault either because they’re duplicates—there’s a bevy of fine china collections and furniture sets—or have complicated provenance. In other words, the Hyde can’t confirm the piece’s authenticity. Canning points to a study of the famed Mona Lisa purchased years ago by the museum’s founder, Charlotte Hyde. “Recent thinking is that what you see on the surface isn’t Leonardo da Vinci,” says Canning of the sketch, which likely did come from Da Vinci’s workshop but was drawn over twice in the last century. Even so, it shares a striking resemblance to the original. And while I won’t be getting to Paris anytime soon, I couldn’t help but think that I saw the next best thing.
All this exquisite culture in Glens Falls. Now that’s something we all can be proud to possess.