What to know about Gershwin art exhibit at Baker Museum in Naples


A first-ever museum art exhibition is on display now in Naples.

“George Gershwin and Modern Art: A Rhapsody in Blue” explores the musician’s art collection, which has never been shown in a museum until the exhibit opened in February at the Baker Museum at Artis―Naples.

Here’s what to know about the exhibit, which runs through June 16.

Why is the George Gershwin exhibition significant

While he was known as a brilliant composer, Gershwin also was an artist who produced numerous paintings, drawings and photographs.

And “his collection of modern art was one of the most significant of his day,” the Artis―Naples website says about the exhibit. “This will be the first major museum exhibition devoted to the composer’s passion for the visual arts.”

“George Gershwin excelled in a multitude of fields, and yet maybe his most defining characteristic is that of collaborator,” added Artis—Naples CEO and President Kathleen van Bergen, in a news release.

“He partnered with others to blend musical genres, broadened the perspective and possibilities of classical music and experimented with the visual arts as a painter, collector and wildly cultured eye.”

Gershwin’s exhibition receives national, international attention

Vanity Fair, in its February issue, published a story about the 100th anniversary of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and mentioned the Baker Museum exhibition.

Pianist and singer Michael Feinstein, who has performed numerous times at Artis―Naples, wrote the article and called “Rhapsody in Blue” Gershwin’s “masterwork and, according to many authorities on popular music, perhaps the greatest American composition of the century.”

And a story earlier this year in the British newspaper The Telegraph mentioned the exhibit in a story about a new book on Gershwin, under the headline: “George Gershwin was one of the greatest art collectors of the 1930s, book reveals.”

What’s in the Gershwin art exhibit

The exhibition “features paintings, sculptures and other artworks from Gershwin’s collection of modern art; paintings, drawings and photographs created by Gershwin himself; and art by leading contemporary artists who were inspired by Gershwin and his music,” Artis―Naples said in the news release.

“To realize this ambitious project, we secured loans from major museums around the world — including the Vatican and the Library of Congress — as well as loans from Gershwin family descendants,” said Tim Hausler, Artis―Naples’ communication manager, in an email.

He noted that decades of research and “countless hours of work” went into bringing the exhibition to life.

Who was George Gershwin

Like so many amazing talents, Gershwin accomplished so much in such a short amount of time. In addition to “Rhapsody in Blue,” the New York City-born Gershwin also composed “An American in Paris” (1928); the songs “Swanee” (1919), “Embraceable You” (1928) and “I Got Rhythm” (1930); and the opera “Porgy and Bess” (1935).

He died tragically in 1937 after he fell into a coma from brain cancer. He was only 38 years old.

Courtney McNeil, Baker Museum director and chief curator, said the exhibition will open visitors’ eyes to the importance of visual art to Gershwin’s creative process.

“Visitors will witness a convergence of artistic practices, where Gershwin’s boundless creativity leapt from composing to painting and back again,” McNeil stated. “Just as Gershwin was influenced by the works of leading modern painters and sculptors, so too did he inspire visual artists, both during his life and for generations to come.”

Alexander Shelley, Artis―Naples’ music director designate, said in the release that few composers have “so indisputably captured and defined the spirit of their own era and culture more successfully and enduringly than George Gershwin.”

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“This exploration of Gershwin as an art collector, artist and composer is precisely the sort of multidisciplinary artistic celebration that inspires us all and opens doors to new knowledge, experience and fulfillment.”

Dave Osborn is the regional features editor of the Naples Daily News and News-Press. Follow him on Instagram and Threads @lacrossewriter and on X (formerly Twitter) @NDN_dosborn.

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