Art museum gets $2 million collection

Birmingham businessman and Auburn alumnus Bill L. Harbert has donated a "significant collection of European art" to The Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art at AU. Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art

Museum officials say the collection of 14 works includes six works by Marc Chagall, three by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, two by Salvador Dalí and one each by Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró and Henri Matisse.

The collection was featured in an exhibition entitled French Masterworks from The Bill L. Harbert Collection, one of the inaugural exhibitions for the museum's opening on Oct. 3, 2003.

The collection has been appraised at $2 million.

"A gift of this magnitude truly illustrates not only Mr. Harbert's love of the arts but also his love of Auburn University," said Ed Richardson, interim president of AU. "This world-renowned collection ensures that the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art will continue to be recognized as a source of pride and cultural enrichment for the Auburn community, the state of Alabama and region."

Amassing an impressive and eclectic collection has been a life-long pursuit of Harbert. After serving in the infantry in Europe from 1943-1946, Harbert graduated from Auburn with a degree in civil engineering in 1948.

Beginning with the gift of a painting from his mother 50 years ago, Harbert spent the past half-century gathering works of art from around the world.

Participating in the formation of the Harbert Construction Corporation in 1949, he eventually purchased and led the operations of Harbert International, Inc. and Bill Harbert International Construction, Inc. Harbert traveled to such diverse locations as Israel, Ecuador, Colombia, India, Hong Kong, Tanzania, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Panama, Trinidad, Angola, Korea, Thailand, Bahrain, the Marshall Islands and the United Arab Emirates.

Today, nearly every square inch of space in Harbert's home and office is covered with his collection, much of which was accumulated during international travels. Although now retired, Harbert continues to travel extensively and to build his collection.

"My collection has been in my home and in my office and nobody could see it," he said. "I donated it to Auburn so that other people could have an opportunity to enjoy it as I have.

"I think the museum (JCSM) is well-run and I like the people involved in running it. Architecturally, the building and its galleries are beautifully designed."

Catherine Walsh, curator of exhibitions, at the AU museum, says Harbert's collection complements the museum's permanent collection and the collecting mission.

"These late 19th and 20th century paintings and works on paper will increase the breadth and depth of our collection which is already strong in American works from that period," she said. "The addition of such international works of quality will create an even richer experience for our visitors.

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