The Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art at Indiana University has announced an estate gift with an estimated value of approximately $4 million from the late Indiana philanthropist Jane Fortune, who was a passionate advocate for women in the arts and founder of the Florence, Italy-based nonprofit Advancing Women Artists.
Fortune's gift includes a collection of 61 works of fine art as well as funds to establish the Dr. Jane Fortune Endowment for Women Artists and the Dr. Jane Fortune Fund for Virtual Advancement of Women Artists. The Eskenazi Museum of Art will recognize Fortune's generosity by naming its first-floor gallery of American and European Art from Medieval to 1900 the "Jane Fortune Gallery."
Born and raised in Indianapolis, Fortune was an author, art historian, art collector, philanthropist and cultural editor. Her commitment to supporting female artists has been recognized around the world.
Fortune, who passed away in 2018, founded the American nonprofit organization Advancing Women Artists Inc., which is dedicated to researching, restoring and exhibiting artwork of women artists, particularly in Florence, Italy. She served on the boards of directors for multiple organizations, including the Dean's Advisory Board for IUPUI's Herron School of Art, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the National Museum of Women in the Arts and the National Advisory Board of the Eskenazi Museum of Art. In 2010, Indiana University recognized her with its highest academic achievement, an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.
Fortune's gift of her collection includes works by female artists, photographs and contemporary art. Among the highlights are a rare drawing by Sister Plautella Nelli, whose work has come to light through Fortune's tireless efforts to identify and conserve works by female Florentine artists; a rare cyanotype photograph by the 19th-century British pioneer of photography, Anna Atkins; and a wall-mounted work by Ghanaian-born artist El Anatsui, the first work by that major contemporary artist to enter the Eskenazi Museum of Art's collection.
Fortune's most recent endeavor, A Space of Their Own, brings together research by Advancing Women Artists, the Eskenazi Museum of Art and IU to build the world's largest database on international female artists from the 1500s to the 1800s. The efforts at IU have been led by Eskenazi Museum of Art Director Emerita Adelheid "Heidi" Gealt.
"Jane Fortune's interest in women artists was profoundly inspiring to me," Gealt said. "When she asked me to undertake A Space of Their Own in 2016, I was honored and delighted. I believe her gift to the Eskenazi Museum will leave a permanent legacy by providing substantive information on historic women artists. I deeply miss Jane and am thrilled to be part of this project."
In August 2018, the museum began placing its collections online to allow people around the world to explore the breadth of the museum's holdings and use them for research, teaching and more. This new portal will feature up-to-date information about each item in the collection, as well as high-quality images, presented via the museum's accessible and informational website.
An initial launch with 500 select items from each of the museum's five curatorial areas is planned in conjunction with the reopening of the building this fall. A Space of Their Own will enhance these efforts by providing the most comprehensive resource to date of information on female painters, printmakers and sculptors active in the United States and Europe between the 16th and 19th centuries.
"Jane Fortune is one of the great women of IU," said Laurie Burns McRobbie, IU first lady and founder of the Women's Philanthropy Leadership Council at IU. "Her tireless efforts to shine a light on Renaissance women artists and her beloved city of Florence are admired by her fellow alumnae as exemplifying the power of passionate philanthropy in action.
"Jane was a founding member of the Women's Philanthropy Leadership Council, and we were honored to support A Space of Their Own with a WPLC grant last year. It is wonderful to know that her legacy will live on at the Eskenazi Museum of Art at Indiana University."
As the museum enters a new phase with a renovated building that includes new areas for learning and teaching, it is committed to providing unprecedented opportunities for engaging with art. The renovation enhanced the museum's mission as a preeminent teaching museum through the creation of four new centers that will provide more space for educational resources for university students, faculty and preschool through high school students. Fortune's generous endowments will further enhance the museum's ability to broaden its outreach.
"Jane's passion and dedication to the arts, especially the under-recognized achievements of women artists, will live on at Indiana University through the seeds that she has planted with her generous gifts," said David A. Brenneman, the Wilma E. Kelley Director of the Eskenazi Museum of Art. "The Eskenazi Museum of Art is extremely proud to be handed Jane's torch and to continue Jane's mission into the future."
This gift counts toward the $3 billion campaign, For All: The Indiana University Bicentennial Campaign.