About the Heeramanecks: Meet Alice and Nasli
Nasli Heeramaneck was born into the art world. Growing up in Bombay, he learned the business from his father Munchersa, an antiques dealer specializing in Chinese ceramics. “The atmosphere of Nasli’s boyfood was permeated with art: problems of identity and significance, of quality and connoisseurship were daily fare,” noted Perry Rathbone, the director of Boston’s Musuem of Fine Arts. At 17, he was managing the family’s gallery in New Delhi; at 20, he founded the Paris branch. A mere three years later, he sold the branch to his brother and moved to New York with $75 and a trunk of Indian art. Soon after, he moved to New York to found the third, and longest lasting branch of the gallery. For the first three years in New York, he conducted his operation out of a hotel room. The sale of a 500-carat emerald cup financed his move into a proper gallery space on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
In 1939 he married Alice Arvine, a New Haven-born portraitist, and together they began their collection of Asian art. Rathbone describes couple’s approach as “not only helpless but heedless: helpless to resist if the object appeals, heedless of the cost.” As a result, they built up extensive holdings in Indian, Tibetan and Nepali sculpture, Ancient Near Eastern and Islamic art, and most importantly for our project, arguably the world’s best collection of Tibetan thangkas. In a 1967 Harpers Magazine article about the couple, Mrs. Heeramaneck said of her husband, “His theory has always been to buy five, sell four, and keep the best for himself.”
The Heeramanecks purchased their collection of thangkas from Giuseppe Tucci, the twentieth century’s foremost scholar of Tibetan art. Tucci was a pioneer in the field, frequently travelling to Tibet to make purchases. In the 1950s put a portion of his thangkas up for sale in New York; none sold until the Heeramanecks purchased the entire lot.
Time magazine called the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s 1969 purchase of a portion of the Heeramaneck thangkas “the single most important art purchase since World War II.” In 1988, Alice Heermaneck donated 18 thangkas to Yale in her and Nasli's name, in honour of her parents. To this day, her gift remains the heart of the Art Gallery's Tibetan holdings. ♦
Works Consulted: Beach, Milo C. "Heeramaneck, Nasli M." The Grove Encyclopedia of American Art. By Joan M. Marter. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2011. 484. Print. Pal, Pratapaditya, and Hugh Richardson. Art of Tibet: A Catalogue of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art Collection. Los Angeles, CA: Museum, 1983. Print.