THE JOURNEY TO BYU
A MIRACULOUS JOURNEY TO UTAH
Danish Latter-day Saint and artist Soren Edsberg put the Bethesda Mission in contact with representatives from the Museum of Art. After months of negotiations, the Mission agreed to sell the painting to the Brigham Young University Museum of Art. Because the Inner Mission was not technically part of the national Lutheran Church in Denmark, this painting was the only religious altarpiece-like paintings by Bloch permitted to leave the country. A generous donation from Jack and Mary Lois Wheatley made it possible for the Museum of Art to acquire this significant work.
However, Bethesda’s journey was not yet assured. In order for it to leave Denmark, permission had to be granted by the Danish government. The Danish Ministry of Cultural Affairs maintains a list of esteemed artists whose works are considered of national importance and therefore not allowed to leave Denmark. Surprisingly, in spite of Bloch’s prominence during his lifetime, his name did not appear on that list. Government approval was consequently granted for the sale of the painting. After contracts were signed, the Museum’s registrar, Susan Thompson, traveled to Denmark to oversee the removal, packing, crating, and shipping of the painting to the United States. Museum staff arranged for space on a special cargo plane to ship the painting overseas, due to its large size. Fortunately, the painting arrived at the Museum of Art on the morning of September 10, 2001, one day before the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Jack R. and Mary Lois Wheatley were devoted advocates and gracious donors to the Brigham Young University Museum of Art from its conception. Drawing upon their love of art and desire to enrich the lives of the University community, Jack and Mary Lois responded to then-University president Jeffrey R. Holland’s suggestion that BYU needed a museum to house its growing art collection. The Wheatleys became wholly engaged in the planning and building process. As President Holland observed, “[They were] the perfect couple at the right time.”
For over 25 years, Jack and Mary Lois Wheatley and family have generously enriched the Museum’s collection by providing the funds for important masterworks like Carl Bloch’s Christ Healing the Sick at Bethesda. The Wheatleys secured this iconic painting for the Museum at a pivotal moment in 2001, after MOA leadership made them aware of this singular opportunity. The painting’s message of compassionate ministering resonated with the couple. As Jack described, “It’s been a great inspiration to us … it [demonstrates] the compassion we need to have for other people, and that we should help them and serve them. In other words, we should practice our kindness and mercy to help all people.” Jack repeatedly referred to this painting as “the best investment I ever made.”
This acquisition likewise shaped the vision for the Museum’s program of religious art, which Jack and Mary Lois and their family supported through meaningful acquisitions that underscore the ministry and redemptive role of Jesus Christ. The Wheatleys have also secured numerous significant works that greatly enhance the Museum’s American art collection, including Mrs. Edward Goetz by the renowned portraitist John Singer Sargent, Daniel Ridgway Knight’s First Grief and The Harvesters, both beloved by audiences, and a collection of photographs by Dorothea Lange. Their legacy of benevolence, integrity, and deep appreciation for artistic quality will be felt by Museum of Art patrons for generations to come.
Following the painting’s arrival at the Museum of Art, several unveilings were held to announce and celebrate the acquisition. During his BYU Devotional address on September 18, 2001, Elder Merrill J. Bateman, then serving as president of Brigham Young University, encouraged all students, faculty, and staff to visit the Museum of Art to study this masterpiece. In light of the terrorist activities of the previous week, he proffered the painting as a message of hope and healing.
In 2013, fine art conservators from the Western Center for the Conservation of Fine Arts in Denver, CO, came to the Museum of Art to perform conservation work on Carl Bloch’s painting. The conservation team painstakingly treated the canvas support, cleaned off decades of dirt, and filled in paint losses, and applied a new varnish.