There was a lot on the line at last night’s Super Bowl LVI—and not just for the Los Angeles Rams and the Cincinnati Bengals.
California’s Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens teamed up with the Cincinnati Art Museum for a friendly wager, betting each of their Robert Henri paintings to the other museum for a loan.
Cincinnati’s Patience Serious (1915) is a portrait of a young girl in blue, the Rams’s official color, while the subject in the Huntington’s (1927) has reddish orange trim on her white dress, recalling the tiger-stripped logo of the Bengals. Now that the Rams reign victorious, defeating the Bengals 23 to 20, the paintings will be reunited at the Huntington at some point later this year.
“ has been waiting a long time to see her friend. After the Bengals take care of business on the football field on Sunday, she’s invited to Cincinnati for a play Dey,” Cincinnati Art Museum director Cameron Kitchin wrote in a statement ahead of the game (making reference to the Bengal’s unofficial chant, “who dey”).
When the Bengals scored, the museum announced “Touchdown Bengals!” on Facebook, sharing a photo of Jim Dine’s 12-foot-tall bronze sculpture of a triumphant-looking PInocchio that stands on the museum’s lawn.
It was the Huntington, of course, that had the final word. “Rams for the win!,” the museum wrote on Twitter, sharing an image of with a Rams hat and the Lombardi Trophy. “Good game @cincyartmuseum—looking forward to hosting at the Huntington soon.”
Henri is an intriguing figure in U.S. art history. A Cincinnati native, Robert Henry Cozad was forced to change his name after his father fatally shot another man during a cattle dispute in Nebraska. The artist studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia and the Académie Julian in Paris, but sought to move beyond the then-dominant Impressionist style of painting. Henri revolted against American academic art, helping found what became known as the Ashcan School of American art.
The Henri bet, first reported by the , marks the first time in four years that museums have gotten in on the action for the Super Bowl. In 2018, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston sent , ca. 1763, by John Singleton Copley to the Philadelphia Museum of Art after the Eagles beat the New England Patriots 41 to 33.
The first museum Super Bowl bet was placed in 2010, at the behest of art journalist Tyler Green. After Green suggested the idea on his blog, Max Anderson, director of the Indianapolis Museum of Art goaded New Orleans Museum of Art director John Bullard into wagering Indianapolis’s’s by J.M.W. Turner versus New Orleans’s by Claude Lorrain. (The New Orleans Saints won 31 to 17.)
In the years since, the Denver Art Museum has lent the Seattle Art Museum Frederic Remington’s bronze sculpture when the Seahawks beat the Broncos in 2014. The next year, when Seattle lost to the Patriots, it sent Albert Bierstadt’s Puget Sound on the Pacific Coast (1870) to the Clark Art Institute, in Williamstown, Massachusetts.
In 2017, the MFA Boston and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta declined to wager any art, but did engage in some meme-based trash talk in the Twitter-based #MuseumBowl in honor of the game.