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Piece by piece, the furnishings of the last Hawaiian queen, Liliuokalani, are returning to Iolani Palace here, on a grassy square wedged between office buildings and populated by egrets. The royal property was dispersed through auctions and giveaways around 1900, but benefactors are retrieving it from antiques stores, thrift shops, backyards, storage units, museums and government offices worldwide.

During a recent tour of the palace, an Italianate 1880s building that became a museum in 1978, its curator, Heather Diamond, and its docent educator, the historian Zita Cup Choy, described how chairs, tables, dinnerware and cuff links had ended up scattered.

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Last month, Colby College Museum of Art put on a view a 1968 painting by Joan Mitchell that museum director Sharon Corwin believes is the best example of abstract expressionism in Maine. Next month, the Portland Museum of Art will unveil an 8-foot-tall steel “Seven” sculpture by Robert Indiana, once rejected by the Prince of Monaco, in the pedestrian plaza out front.

The two works share few similarities, but they represent the latest high-profile acquisitions by two leading museums in Maine and highlight the challenges facing curators and museum directors as they shape collections across the state.

In both instances, the museums acquired the art because benefactors took personal interest in bringing it to Maine.

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The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York is giving thanks to generations of benefactors with the exhibition “Shaping a Collection: Five Decades of Gifts.” Since the institution was founded in 1930, its permanent collection has grown primarily through the generosity of individual donors, beginning with sculptor Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s founding gift, which included over 500 works by artists such as Thomas Hart Benton, George Bellows, Stuart Davis, Edward Hopper, Maurice Prendergast, and John Sloan. Whitney continued to add to the museum’s collection throughout her lifetime and in 1948, the institution began accepting gifts from outside sources.

Since the Whitney’s Marcel Breuer-designed building opened to the public in 1931, its permanent collection has expanded from about 2,300 objects to more than 21,000. It is estimated that nearly two-thirds of the institution’s collection, including some of its most iconic holdings, were donated by museum trustees, collectors, foundations, and artists. While “Shaping a Collection” represents a small portion of the gifts received by the Whitney, the exhibition honors all of the benefactors who have helped make the Whitney’s collection what it is today.

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Marguerite Steed Hoffman, a current trustee and former chairman of the Dallas Museum of Art, has donated $17 million to the institution to create the Marguerite and Robert Hoffman Fund for European Art Before 1700. Hoffman specified that $13.6 million is to be used for acquisitions and the remaining $3.4 million is allotted for exhibitions and planning. Hoffman’s generous gift is one of the country’s largest geared towards the purchase and care of Old Master works.

While the Dallas Museum of Art has a substantial collection of late 19th and early 20th century works, its Old Master holdings are lacking. Hoffman’s donation will help expand its European Renaissance and Baroque collections; her gift also more than doubles the museum’s acquisition endowment.

Hoffman created the fund in honor of her late husband, Robert, who died in 2006. The two were important benefactors of the museum for years and participated in an important gift of modern and contemporary art that took place in 2005. The gift was part of a campaign that helped raise over $185 million for the museum.

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