BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
Family, friends, colleagues and fans filled the Art Institute’s Stock Exchange Room earlier this summer to recognize a woman unlike any other—a celebrated speaker, writer, scholar, philanthropist and always deeply devoted friend to scores of people and Chicago institutions. Old Masters Society President David Horn set the stage for the evening of tributes, including that of Art Institute President James Rondeau, at the annual meeting of the Art Institute group established by Jean and other prominent young Chicagoans in 1975.
We celebrate Jean’s extraordinary contributions to the Art Institute, to the fabric of the Chicago cultural community and to the Old Masters Society. But there might not have been as wonderful an OMS—over all these years—without the genius of Jean Goldman, a talent and an intellect now gone but who will long be remembered. She was not only an OMS treasure, she was also a dear friend for decades.
I will make no secret of my affection for Jean. I was thrilled to be in her presence, whether watching her cook in her beautiful home with friends, grabbing a quick lunch with Jean and Steve, or listening to one after another of her utterly astounding lectures—an intellect, a wit, a knowledgeable collector, a passionate representative of a life well lived and well loved. She always dazzled me with her persona, her passion, her insights, and I never walked away from any moment in her presence without being enthralled.
The evening was not only an opportunity to celebrate Jean with her husband Steven and their sons Josh and his wife Ikram and Peter and his wife Jennifer, but also for each guest to receive Jean’s tribute to the OMS, a magnificent book chronicling the history of the organization started by Louise Smith Bross. Gloria Groom, Chair of the Department of European Painting and Sculpture, told of how Jean brought the story to life:
About three years ago Jean came to Laura de Frise, then President of the OMS, and I with the idea that she would write the history of The Old Masters Society, one of a number of auxiliary groups at the Art Institute of Chicago that depend on the dedicated individuals who support them through their gifts of time, money and enthusiasm. Her idea was that the Society, unlike others at the museum, had nothing to show for their long and fruitful existence beginning in 1975. By the time of her untimely death in January of this year, Jean was reviewing the final manuscript. This results of this labor of love, is this book, “The Old Masters Society: Treasures of European Art at the Art Institute of Chicago”, the first-ever attempt to capture the significance of the society—its origins, goals, contributions, and acquisitions on behalf of the Department of European Painting and Sculpture.
The many stories assembled in this undertaking represents Jean’s gift to our Department of European Painting and Sculpture, an enduring commitment to the Old Masters Society and most importantly for me, a permanent legacy of her longstanding friendship with the curators.
Like all those in attendance, countless others in pivotal cultural institutions such as The Alliance Francaise, The Antiquarian Society and so many others are wondering what to do without Jean as both leader and friend. We like what one woman commented: “I always tried to sit by Jean at a monthly meeting followed by lunch—I never had a conversation with her that was less than fascinating or knew anyone cleverer”. Another friend added that her favorite conversations with Jean would include memories of elaborate art projects when Josh and Peter were children, including Easter egg painting at their home in Glencoe and then her joy in having twin grandsons. Jean was tiny in stature, but mighty in the profound impact she had on others. Her last book captures so much of her legacy.