The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Ackland Art Museum has received its largest gift ever, donated from alumnus Sheldon Peck and his wife Leena – valued at $25 million. The unprecedented commitment includes an $8 million endowment to support a new curator and future acquisitions and an art gift of 134 primarily 17th-century European masterworks, valued at $17 million, including seven works by Rembrandt van Rijn.
With the Peck Collection gift, the Ackland becomes the first public university art museum in the United States to own a collection of drawings by Rembrandt and only the second university art museum in the nation to do so.
The masterworks are a major collection of Dutch and Flemish drawings built by the Pecks over the last four decades. Along with the Rembrandts, the collection includes nearly 100 17th-century Dutch landscape, genre and figural compositions by artists such as Aelbert Cuyp, Jan van Goyen and Jacob van Ruisdael, as well as a dozen 17th-century Flemish drawings by masters like Peter Paul Rubens, Jacob Jordaens and Paul Bril. A group of 15 18th- and 19th-century Dutch drawings is also part of the collection.
One of the Rembrandt drawings in the collection bears an inscription in the artist’s own handwriting, which until this donation was the last known drawing with such an inscription remaining in private hands.
“This amazing gift of European Golden Age art treasures – preserved for nearly 400 years and lovingly collected by the Pecks over the past 40 years – delights us today with its timeless beauty and will forever inspire future generations of students, scholars and visitors that come to our historic campus,” said Chancellor Carol L. Folt. “These drawings are a remarkable window through which we glimpse past cultures and times through the eyes of masters. We are honored by the inestimable value of the Pecks’ gift because it advances Carolina’s public mission to serve the people of North Carolina and makes the university a destination for people of all ages from around the world for all time.”
The Pecks’ gift includes the Peck Collection Endowment Fund and the Sheldon Peck Curatorship Fund, dedicated to the care and enhancement of the Peck Collection, including conservation, digitization and cataloging, as well as funds for the acquisition of other European and American masterworks created before 1950.
The endowment will also enable the Ackland to create and support a new position at the museum: the Sheldon Peck curator of European and American art and curator of the Peck Collection. This is the Ackland’s first full-time endowed position.
“We are overjoyed with the Pecks’ exceptionally generous gift of art, funds for its stewardship and support for future acquisitions,” said Ackland Art Museum Director Katie Ziglar. “Thanks to the new curatorial position their endowment also provides, we look forward to organizing a series of special exhibitions focusing on masterworks from the Peck Collection. Works of such high achievement and quality will fascinate and delight Ackland visitors for decades to come.”
With their gift, the Pecks aspire to offer the public a deeper appreciation for the Dutch masters’ celebration of beauty in the everyday.
“The exceptional vision and profound humanity of the Dutch masters’ drawings still have the power to surprise and delight 400 years after their creation. I hope many will experience the pleasure and awe these works still elicit in me every time I study one,” said Sheldon Peck. “I am thrilled the Ackland, with its distinguished tradition of commitment to the research and exhibition of drawings, will now be the steward of what Leena and I have brought together.”
Peck, originally from Durham, is a prominent orthodontic specialist, educator and art collector. After receiving his undergraduate degree from Carolina in 1963 and his doctorate from the UNC School of Dentistry in 1966, he moved to Boston for a residency in orthodontics and then entered private practice and academics. Peck was a clinical professor of developmental biology at the Harvard University School of Dental Medicine for 20 years, and served as an adjunct professor of orthodontics at Carolina’s School of Dentistry.
He has generously donated art to the Ackland since 1988, when he gave a drawing by Allart van Everdingen to the museum in honor of his much-admired older brother and Carolina alumnus, Harvey Peck. Works of art from the Pecks’ collection, many of them exhibited for the first time, were on view in the 1999 Ackland travelling exhibition “Fresh Woods and Pastures New.”
Peck has been a member of the Ackland’s national advisory board since 1987, and he and his wife are longtime supporters of the museum’s “Art For Lunch” lecture series.
“We are thrilled that a longtime board member has made such an unparalleled gift to the Ackland, which brings the museum to a new level of importance in the region and in our country,” said Kate Nevin, Ackland advisory board chair.