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Attending the Grand Opening of the splendid new Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida (story and pics below), I thought frequently of how thrilled A. Reynolds and Eleanore Morse would have been to see the culmination of their half-century efforts to build the world’s best Dali collection. Perhaps they were with us. I almost thought at times that I heard Ren’s chuckling.
He and I first met in 1987 when he stopped by my Colorado Springs appraisal office to discuss an upcoming prosecution of two Denver brothers whose 43 galleries sold fake Dali prints throughout the southwest. He would testify and I was the prosecution’s chief expert witness.
Biographies and obituaries (both in The New York Times) are easily available online. The memories I have of the Morses are both personal and enjoyable.
If he was here today, I believe that Ren would agree that we hit it off immediately–as he told Eleanor when we called her from my office. As he saw it, he and I were both Colorado boys. He had grown up in the state, graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Colorado, was a Board member of the Denver Natural History Museum, had published a newspaper column titled Gold Links Tailings about life in the gold mining town of Leadville, and collected and wrote about etchings by George Elbert Burr.
I was the Past-President of the Colorado Open Space Council and the Colorado Nature Conservancy, owned a wildlife preserve on the west side of Pikes Peak, was an expert on etchings and he and I had climbed many of the same mountains. In St. Petersburg he loved the fact that I, like he, wore a bolo tie.
When I visited Ren and Eleanor in 1987, 1993 and 1998 to appraise the museum collection and to lecture, Ren frequently brought me volumes of his journals and read me passages. Eleanor would tell me stories about the acquisition of one work or another. When we went to dinner at their favorite restaurant, we would often be accompanied by curator Joan Kropf who was really good about going through the experience yet again and hearing the same stories yet again.
The first time they took me to their house, in 1987, Ren pointed at a handsome polished ebony sculpture on a stand in the living room. “Bet you don’t know what that is,” he said. When I identified it as the rowing post from a Venetian gondola he was amazed because he said I was the first person to ever pass his little test.
Sweet Eleanore (with a core of iron) was an accomplished French scholar and translated numerous Dali books, including Robert Descharnes’ 1984 monumental Salvador Dali: The Work the Man. When she heard that my wife Melinda and I would be attending the 2004 Dali centennial seminars at the Museum, she invited us to dinner at the Yacht Club and her box at the symphony. She and Melinda had become fond of each other when Melinda assisted me with the 1998 appraisal. Every year I also did appraisals of the artworks that the Morses donated to the Museum.
Eleanor was less passionate that Ren who often burst out with opinions before carefully considering them. When he heard for the first time about the Albaretto Collection in Turin, Italy, he stated that the works must be fakes because he didn’t know about them. Later the couple became close to the other collecting couple, Giuseppe and Mara Albaretto, visited their home and exchanged warm letters, which I have read. When I twice visited the Albarettos, we shared stories about our mutual friends from Florida. Unfortunately, Ren’s first response has been used by the bad guys in the Dali market to taint the Albaretto reputation. Dali had carefully kept his major collectors from knowing about each other.
As the new museum opens to welcome its annual quarter of a million visitors, I enjoy thinking about what it would mean to my friends Ren and Eleanore. The building is enormous, the collection is magnificently hung and the curatorial staff is far larger and more scholarly that the Morses every knew. Dr. William Jeffett’s splendid 2010 book Dali Doubled is a must-have for every Dali fan. Ren, who wrote seven Dali books, would be impressed and proud.