Ralph Raby Collection – Provenance

The Ralph Raby Collection

Ralph Raby is a direct descendant of the Chicago retail shoe magnates George and Joseph Bullock. The Bullocks were typical upper-class Victorians, with a sophisticated eye for fine furniture, art and decorations who traveled extensively throughout Europe. The majority of the Raby collection was assembled by the brothers and their wives in the 1870′s and 1880′s.

Their travels and philosophy were described by Mr. Raby for a 1984 Chicago Tribune article:

It was typical of late 19th century Americans to go to Italy, France and Germany. After 1850 you had a whole middle class that began to travel. Chicago was a big rail center, so Chicagoans could travel easily. The Victorians were interested in the unusual and the exotic, the expanding of their knowledge and education.

When they went abroad they not only investigated Europe, but the Near East, which was being opened up. They took caravan rides across French Morocco and sleigh rides through Russia. They did things that people would think about three or four times before doing today. They knew no fear.

They would bring back mementos, paintings, fabrics, screens, pottery and rugs. For the Bullocks and almost all Victorians, collecting was a way of life.

The collection was housed in Joseph Bullock’s magnificent mansion on Chicago’s North Side, built for Joseph by his brother George (who traveled so extensively that he and his wife stayed only in hotels) and was later inherited by Joseph’s daughter Bertha in 1908. Although Bertha was active in society (she was a founder of Chicago’s Fortnightly Club), her declining health prevented her from remodeling the mansion or altering the collection. Thus when the home was acquired by Mr. Raby, great-great-great nephew of George Bullock, and his partner Glenn C. Hjort in 1961, the home and the collection had been virtually untouched since the late 1800s.

Both Mr. Hjort and Mr. Raby were involved in architectural history and preservation, and both were predisposed to maintain this snapshot of one of America’s most elegant and sophisticated eras. While they made some additions to the collection over the years, they did so with a curatorial eye.

Provenance note by Lee Young, Vice-President, English & Continental Furniture & Decorative Arts, Freeman’s.


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