Walters Family & Walters Art Museum Provenance

Walters Family & Walters Art Museum Collection

William Walters (1819 to 1894) left his home town in central Pennsylvania to establish a Baltimore grain trading firm which ultimately developed into one of the country’s most important wholesale liquor houses. Divided in his loyalties when the Civil War began, Walters took his wife and children, Henry (1848 to 1931) and Jennie (1853 to 1922), to Paris. There he pursued his passion for commissioning art and patronizing modern artists of the French academic school, including Gerome, Barye, and Daumier.

Upon the family’s return to the U.S., Walters began investing in railroads and banking, and later with his son’s participation, he built an enterprise of railroads up and down the east coast. Henry Walters continued to pursue his father’s goal of opening a museum, but the scope of his ambitions was even broader than his father’s. Whereas William had concentrated in modern European and Asian Art, Henry expanded the collection to include major works by Renaissance masters such as Raphael and El Greco, as well as Classical, Medieval, Egyptian, ancient Near Eastern, and Islamic art.

Although not to his taste, Walters allowed himself to be convinced by advisors to collect paintings by Impressionists such as Monet and Degas. At the same time, Walters had also developed a strong enthusiasm for modern decorative arts, including jewelry by Tiffany, Lalique, Melillo, and Faberge.

Impressed by Paulding Farnham and George Kunz’s work at the international exhibitions, Walters began to patronize Tiffany & Co. in the early 1890s. At the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle, he purchased the life-size iris corsage ornament set with color graduated Montana sapphires which remains a centerpiece of the Walters Art Museum collection. (See Paulding Farnham, Tiffany’s Lost Genius, by John Loring, pp. 34-35.)

For more information on the Walters’ collection, see William Johnston’s William and Henry Walters, The Reticent Collectors, from which this history was summarized.

Information courtesy of Skinner Inc., March 2009.

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