Minneapolis Institute of Art to gain key pieces Bruce Dayton displayed in his home

Bruce B. Dayton
Portrait of Bruce B. Dayton in The Studio of Gratifying Discourse, Minneapolis Institute of Art.
Dan Dennehy | MIA 2015

A vast array of rare art from Bruce Dayton's personal collection will soon be transferred to the Minneapolis Institute of Art under the terms of a will that only recently became final.

The donated works of art fill a five-page roster accompanying Dayton's will obtained this week by Minnesota Public Radio News through court filings. They include paintings, etchings, sculptures and ceramics, and some works are by artists with household names: Rembrandt, Renoir, Matisse, Picasso and Pissaro. Chinese earthware dating back 1,000 years is also among the art Dayton donated.

When the business executive, philanthropist and father of Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton died in November at age 97, tributes poured in about his standing as a generous arts patron. Through more than seven decades as a Mia trustee, Bruce Dayton contributed 2,000 pieces to the state's premier art institute.

The 91 pieces being conveyed have been displayed throughout Dayton's home in Wayzata. All but 13 will be given to Mia soon, with the rest remaining with his wife, Ruth Stricker, until she passes it along or her own death.

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A Mia spokesperson declined comment, saying the museum has "not officially been notified of a gift."

Dayton's will is guarded about the former department store executive's net worth or the value of the art being gifted. Some of his financial assets are part of family trusts of unknown amounts, which are either being passed along to his wife or four children and their families.

Bruce Dayton's two daughters and two sons, including the governor, will also receive personal items such as family flatware, jewelry, books and a prized bronze Bertoia sculpture he kept in his living room. They were required to draw lots to determine the order for picking items.

His last will and testament became final in mid-January after a 30-day period to contest it passed without objection. Several documents spelling out Dayton's wishes were filed in Hennepin County probate court in December.

Dayton's zeal for the arts was well-documented and his connection to Mia ran deep. He was recruited for the museum's board in 1942 by Chinese art collector Alfred Pillsbury. Dayton acquired his own taste for Asian art, once telling MPR that he didn't bother setting an annual budget for art spending because he figured he'd exceed it.

"There are items here I paid $5 for. Some I paid more. I didn't reach for high prices. I reached for things I liked," he told an MPR interviewer in 1992 as they toured an exhibition featuring some of his past gifts.

Robert Jacobsen, the former Mia curator of Asian art, helped Dayton assemble the collection that museum visitors now see. He also was familiar with Dayton's displays at home.

"His form of collecting was different in that there were these two channels — one was for the house and the other was for the museum," Jacobsen said, adding that Dayton viewed his Asian art acquisitions as for the museum but tended to display western art, such as French paintings, more prominently at home.

Ron Spencer, a New York attorney who specializes in art law and publishes an art law journal, said that Dayton was so closely connected to the MIA is important. Such ties can be vital for museums aiming to be included in a collector's estate.

"It's fairly rare for all of the sudden someone to die and leave his whole collection or a big part of his collection to a museum where he's had no contact over the years," Spencer said. "There's usually been a long history. The curators are out there years before the guy dies talking to him, advising him even on what to buy and informing the collection."

Spencer said it's not uncommon for big collectors to put their art up for auction upon their death or to establish a foundation that manages which pieces get displayed where. He said donations like Dayton's can have tax implications because they can be deducted from the overall valuation of the overall estate.