A Lavoisier Painting’s Path

Lavoisier and His Wife, painting by Jacques-Louis David, photo by Drahl/C&EN

It's a painting that most chemists would recognize instantly. Antoine Lavoisier, French nobleman and giant in early modern chemistry, sits, quill in hand, at a velvet-cloaked table topped with scattered instruments. Behind him, in a position perhaps symbolic of her role in Lavoisier's legacy (if the play Oxygen is to be believed), is Madame Lavoisier. I've visited the painting before-- it hangs in New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art. But before that, as I learned on my travels on Tuesday, its home was Rockefeller University. The painting arrived in New York via descendants of Lavoisier himself. John D. Rockefeller purchased the painting from them through a dealer and gifted it to the university. In 1977, the university sold the painting to the Met for about $4 million, which funded professorships and graduate fellowships. So how'd I get a picture of the painting this week while I was at Rockefeller rather than the Met? As Jeanne Garbarino, a postdoc in Jan Breslow's lab, explained to me, when Sir Paul Nurse stepped down from Rockefeller's presidency to head up the Royal Society, he had a high-quality reproduction made for the university as a gift.

Author: Carmen Drahl

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