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William and Henry Walters, the Reticent Collectors

Hardback
, 344 pages

19 color illus., 66 halftones

ISBN:
9780801860409
September 1999
$50.00

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William and Henry Walters, the Reticent Collectors

In the mid-nineteenth century, Baltimore businessman William Thompson Walters began to patronize the artists of Maryland. Today, the museum that bears his name—Baltimore's Walters Art Gallery—excels in fields as diverse as Egyptian bronzes, Byzantine silver, illuminated manuscripts, medieval carved ivories, early Renaissance paintings, Sèvres porcelains, Islamic metalwork, and Chinese ceramics. Surprisingly, the story of how William Walters and his son Henry created one of the finest privately assembled museums in the United States has not been told.

With this new book, William Johnston, the Walters's curator of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century art, restores William and Henry Walters to their rightful place among America's great art collectors. Drawing upon the knowledge of the early museum staff and gathering valuable information from the few other available sources, Johnston has painstakingly recreated the life and world of the Walterses.

Though Henry Walters moved easily in Baltimore and New York social circles, Johnston explains, he kept much to himself and generally purchased art away from the public's eye. Despite the Walterses' reticence, they had a significant influence on the development of American tastes and museums—William in his role as the first chairman of the Committee on Works of Art for the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C., and Henry as the second vice-president of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Their personal collection differs from those of other, more familiar collectors, such as J. P. Morgan and Henry Clay Frick, in that Henry Walters intended from the very first that the collection form a museum to serve the public. When the museum first opened its doors in 1934, Johnston relates, many visitors were surprised by the collection's size and by its comprehensive representation of the history of art from the third millennium b.c. to the early twentieth century.

Richly illustrated with black-and-white photographs and sixteen pages of full color, this book will fascinate anyone interested in Baltimore history, the history of museums and art collecting in America, and the art and culture of nineteenth-century America.

William R. Johnston is associate director and curator of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century art at the Walters Art Gallery.

"An excellent portrait of the father and son who assembled the [Walters Art Gallery] collection and turned it over to the people of Baltimore and the world... Johnston skillfully handles both the complex business transactions of the Walters family and their varied interests in both the art of their day and in historical collecting. Highly recommended."

"A superb read. While this book certainly defines the Walters, it goes much further—more than any other I know, it best addresses the nature of post-Civil War art collecting. It speaks of the rise to wealth, power, and position of a whole class of entrepreneurs in the post-Civil War period and addresses the entire historic, economic, and social life of Baltimore in the mid- and late nineteenth century. It is an original and substantial contribution of sound scholarship—there is nothing like it in publication."