The "Collection Museum"

I have been doing some research on Isabella Stewart Gardner over the past few weeks, in hopes to present something at a conference this fall.

In doing this research, I’ve started to make a compilation of “collection museums” that were created by private collectors in the late 19th and early-to-mid 20th century. I love going to “collection museums,” especially when such buildings also functioned as the residence for the collector. Two of my favorite museum experiences are when I visited the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC (shown right) and visited the Frick Collection (shown below on left).

First of all, I love seeing what types of art appeal to one individual, as a collector. It is also interesting to visit these museums and see how a collector would have potentially “decorated” their residence space. (The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is most interesting in this respect, since she specified in her will that the arrangement and presentation of her collection could not be altered after her death, or the whole collection would be given to Harvard University.)

I think that a museum visitor can make a lot of interesting associations with works of art when they are in such a personal, domestic setting. Although great works of art can undoubtedly stand (or hang!) on their own, I love seeing works of art in an interesting context and display. “Collector museums” are fun to have in a postmodern society, don’t you think? It’s much more interesting to me than the white cube gallery space, that’s for sure.

Here are the “collection museums” that I have compiled so far (in chronological order of when the museums were built/founded):

UPDATE: A more comprehensive list (going outside the time frame from this post) was created in a separate post on this blog.

  • The Wallace Collection (London). The collection was mainly amassed by Richard Seymoure-Conway, who bequeathed the collection to his illigetimate son, Sir Richard Wallace. Collection is displayed in the Hertford House, the main London townhouse of Sir Richard Wallace. The collection was bequeathed to the British nation in 1897 by Lady Wallace (Julie-Amélie-Charlotte Castelnau), wife of Sir Richard Wallace.
  • Musée Condé in the Château de Chantilly (near Paris). Bequeathed by the Duc d’Aumale to the Institut of France in 1897. (Note: From what I can tell, this museum is not the collection of one private collector, but a collection that was amassed over time by the Montmorency and Condé families. Museum also has a collection once owned by Caroline Murat, the sister of Napoleon.)
  • The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, Massachusetts). Collection of Isabella Stewart Gardner. The museum (“Fenway Court”) also served as Isabella’s residence. Construction begun in 1899, opened to the public on Near Year’s Day, 1903.
  • Jacquemart-André Museum (Paris). Collection of André and Nélie Jacquemart. Nélie Jacquemart was a well known society painter. In accordance with her husband’s wishes, Nélie bequeathed the mansion and collection to the Institut de France. Museum opened in 1913.
  • The Hallwyl Museum (Stockholm). Primarily the collection of Countess Wilhelmina von Hallwyl. Museum is located in the Hallwyl House, which served as the private residence for Count and Countess van Hallwyl. Collection was donated to the state in 1920.
  • The Phillips Collection (Washington, DC). Collection of Duncan Phillips. Museum building was once Phillip’s residence. Founded 1921.
  • Sinebrychoff Art Museum (Helsinki, Finland). Collection of Paul Sinebrychoff. Collection donated to the state in 1921. The Sinebrychoff private residence (the current location of the museum) was bequeathed to the state in 1975.
  • The Barnes Foundation (originally located in Merion, Pennsylvania). Collection of Albert C. Barnes. Founded in 1922. I’m especially distraught over this museum, since the collection is currently being moved to a new location in Philadelphia. If you want to learn more about the situation involving the displacement of the Barnes Foundation, I’d recommend that you see the documentary The Art of the Steal.
  • Freer Gallery of Art (Washington, DC). Collection of Charles Lang Freer. Construction begun in 1916, but gallery completion was delayed because of WWI. Gallery opened in 1926.
  • Benaki Museum (Athens). Collections of Antonis Benakis. Founded in 1926.
  • The Huntington Art Gallery (Pasadena, CA). Collection of Henry E. Huntington. Museum building was once Huntington’s residence. Opened in 1928.
  • Musée Marmottan Monet (Paris). Originally the collection of Paul Marmottan (which was partially inherited from his father, Christophe Edmond Kellermann, Duke of Valmy). Museum was bequeathed to the Académie des Beaux Arts. The museum location originally served as the hunting lodge for Christophe Edmond Kellermann and later the home of Paul Marmottan. The Academy opened the museum in 1935. Museum collection was expanded with a gift in 1957 (Impressionist collection once owned by Doctor Georges de Bellio) and in 1966 (the personal collection of Claude Monet, bequeathed by Monet’s son Michel Monet). Museum also houses a collection of illuminated manuscripts once owned by Daniel Wildenstein (who died in 2001).
  • The Frick Collection (New York City). Collection of  Henry Clay Frick. Museum is housed in the former home of Henry Clay Frick. Museum opened to the public in 1935.
  • The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art (Sarasota, Florida). Collection of John and Mable Ringling. Museum functioned as the Ringling family’s private residence. Art collection, mansion, and estate were bequeathed to the state of Florida in 1936, at the death of John Ringling. This museum boasts an eclectic Baroque collection, among other things.
  • Maryhill Museum of Art (Goldendale, Washington). Collection of Sam Hill and Loïe Fuller. Construction of mansion (current location of museum) was begun in 1914 by owner Sam Hill. However, construction stopped in 1917. Work resumed in 1920s and 1930s, with the intent of turning the mansion into a museum. Museum opened to the public in 1940. This museum owns more than 80 works by Rodin.
  • Dumbarton Oaks (Washington DC). Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss. Museum also functioned as residence for the Bliss family. Institution dedicated and transferred to Harvard University in 1940.

Know any more to add to this list? Have you been to visit any of these places? What was your experience? I learned about several of these lesser-known museums from a book review of A Museum of One’s Own by Anne Higonnet. I hope to read Higgonet’s book this week and add more museums to my list.

I think it’s really interesting that several women were among the first to convert their private residence into a museum space, including Lady Wallace (Wallace Collection) and Isabella Stewart Gardner. Many other women were key in forming collections, such as the Countess Wilhelmina van Hallwyl (Hallwyl Museum) and Loïe Fuller (Maryhill Museum of Art). Perhaps there was something about displaying art in a domestic space that was especially appealing to female collectors? I think that I might explore this idea further in my research!

Images from Wikipedia. Frick Collection image by Wikipedia user “Gryffindor.”

  • Zsombor Jékely says:

    I have never been, but it should definitely be on the list:
    Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon

  • H Niyazi says:

    Hi M! Outside of the Accademia Galleries, many of the older Italian Galleries qualify as Collection Museums, having once belonged to dynastic lines and then being passed onto the public (or still with familial associations in some cases). Then you have the various locales of the Royal Collections around Europe, which are partly open the public.

    One which also comes to mind is the Mohamed Mahmoud Khalil Museum in Cairo, which houses an impressive collection of French art – it was featured in that initial episode of Fake or Fortune about the controversial Monet.

    Taking the focus off the west for a moment, much could also be said for museums in Turkey and Eastern continent, from the Blue Mosque, to Topkapi Palace and the Taj mahal. These were never designed as public spaces, though are public museums to us today.

    Kind Regards

  • M says:

    Zsombor Jékely: Thanks for the suggestion! I've never heard of the Gulbenkian museum, but I'm very anxious to go there. I speak Portuguese, and would love to see this collection in Lisbon.

    I read on this page a little bit more about the collector, Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian. It appears that he had amassed a large collection of over 6,000 pieces that dated from antiquity to the 20th century. For security measures, the collection was split up in the middle of the 20th century and sent to locations like the British Museum and the National Gallery in Washington DC. The collection was finally reunited in 1969 (after a lot of negotiation!), fourteen years after the death of Gulbenkian.

    H Niyazi: Great comment and suggestions to add to this list. I've heard of the Mohamed Mahmoud Khalil Museum, but only from different art crime reports. Just last year a Van Gogh painting was stolen from that museum.

    I did a little bit of research, and it appears that Mohamed Mahmoud Khalil Museum was established in 1962. The museum is located in a palace (which also served to house government offices during the 70s, 80s, and beginning of the 90s!).

  • heidenkind says:

    I've been to several of these. I think there's something to be said for keeping one's collection intact; it's a time capsule of history, really.

    It's more of a historic house than an art museum per se, but the Jacquemart-Andre in Paris has a pretty decent collection of art. And there's the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice.

  • Dr. F says:


    A very nice survey of the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum was done by Rona Goffen a few years ago. You can get a used copy on amazon very inexpensively. The images are great with very nice descriptions.


  • Undine says:

    I live relatively close to the Huntington, so I've gone there a number of times. The mansion itself is worth the visit–it's a work of art in itself.

    Wonderful library, too.

  • Val S. says:

    I wish I had been to more of these! I've been to Maryhill more than once and have to correct you – it's in Washington State (the other Washington) just outside the small town of Goldendale. It's in a stunning setting on the Columbia River Gorge, and quite unexpected. Besides the Rodins, which include several studies, there are collections of Native American artifacts, chess sets, small-scale mannequins in post-War fashions, memorabilia of Queen Marie of Romania, peacocks on the lawn, and a replica of Stonehenge (in concrete) down the road!

  • The Romantic Armchair Traveller says:

    May I suggest the Sinebrychoff Art Museum in Helsinki, Finland? The house was built in 1842 by the Synebrychoffs, a family of merchants who amassed a large private collection of European paintings. The collection was bequeathed to the State in 1921 and the residence – which retains the original furnishings – in 1975. The Sinebrychoff Art Museum now forms part of the Finnish National Gallery. The exhibition has expanded over time through grants and gifts and today houses silver, porcelain, hundreds of miniatures, and the country’s most important collection of pre-1860s foreign artworks. Sorry, can’t comment on the present state of the museum as I have not had the opportunity to visit since the extensive renovations of about ten years ago. I seem to recall hearing that the curators restored much of the former “family home” feeling to the place by redesiging parts of the interiors to look as they would originally have done in the first decade of the 20th century.

  • M says:

    heidenkind: Jacquemart-André Museum is perfect for this list! I've added it to my post. This museum fits right in the time frame that I mentioned, having been soon established not long after the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. The Jacquemart-André Museum was also established by a woman, Niéle Jacquemart.

    Peggy Guggenheim is another great female collector to discuss, too! From 1951 Peggy opened up her home in Venice to the public during the summer months. Since Peggy's death, the Guggenheim Foundation has turned her private home into the small museum of modern art. For anyone who is interested, you can see the website for the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice here.

    Dr. F: Thanks for the tip! I'll look for the Rona Goffen catalog.

    Undine: I have never visited the Huntington Museum, and only came familiar with the place through this research. Glad to know that the museum comes with a high recommendation from you! I'm anxious to visit the palace soon.

    Val S.: Thanks for the clarification! I made the change in my post. I actually was mislead by the location from incorrect information presented in a book review. As someone from "the other Washington," I am very aware of the difference between DC and Washington state! That being said, this is a happy mistake on my part. I'm glad to know that Maryhill is located much closer to me! I'll have to try and visit it sometime this summer. It sounds really fun.

  • M says:

    The Romantic Armchair Traveller: Thanks for the suggestion! I'll add this one to my list. (And welcome to my blog, I don't believe that you have commented before.)

    The Sinebrychoff Art Museum looks like a fantastic place with some great art. I wonder where the collection was displayed before the residence was bequeathed to the state in 1975. Do you (or any other readers) know?

  • Kiersten says:

    I grew up near-ish to the Huntington Library, and visiting there was one of my favorite family outings as a child.

    The Sir John Soane Museum in London is one of my favorite private collector museums–that place has a crazy clutter of stuff, but it is an excellent example of the 17-18th century preoccupation with collecting a "cabinet of curiosities".

    My in-laws live in Tulsa and both of the major museums there are from private collections. The Philbrook is similar to the Huntington Library in many ways except the Tulsa collector's focus was more on Bouguereau than Reynolds and old manuscripts. The Gilcrease Museum has one of the best collections of American southwestern art that I have ever seen.

  • The Romantic Armchair Traveller says:

    Thank you for the welcome 🙂 I have been subscribing for a time, having found you via heidenkind's blog, and in my eagerness to finally have something to contribute forgot to introduce myself!

    I believe that the family assigned a small part of the building to serve as gallery space while they kept the remainder as an executive residence. The grounds were larger back then, including a park and the Sinebrychoff brewery (no longer in operation).

  • M says:

    Kiersten: I've never even heard of the John Sloane Museum! This is now the earliest example of a "collection museum" with which I am familiar, since it started in the early 19th century. Neat!

    I just read here that the collection functioned as a museum and academy in the beginning of the 19th century. Sloane was serving as a Professor of Architecture at the Royal Academy, and he allowed students to come and study his collection. Sloane negotiated an Act of Parliament in 1833 to preserve the museum, and in that act was put into force when Sloane died in 1837.

    The Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa looks like a really interesting place. I'd love to go there. I wonder where the collection came from. From what I read here, it looks like the residence was donated to the public in 1938 by Waite and Genevieve Phillips, with the intent of the museum being turned into an art museum. I'll have to see if any collection was in place before the residence was donated to the public.

    The Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa also sounds very interesting! From what I have read online, it looks like that collection was open for public view in 1949. The collection was given to the city of Tulsa in 1955.

  • M says:

    The Romantic Armchair Traveller: How interesting! Thanks for the update on the Sinebrychoff museum. Your comment about the brewery helped me to find this webpage and this exhibition page. Now I can see why Sinebrychoff, as a brewer, might have liked depictions of merry drinking companies!

    It sounds like an interesting place. Now I have added reason to visit Helsinki!

  • M says:

    Tweeter @rosalindmckever recommended the Estorick Collection in London as another great "collection museum." The collection belonged to Eric and Salome Estorick. This collection contains a lot of Italian art dating from 1890 to 1950 (with an emphasis on the Futurists). Eric Estorick died in 1993, and in 1994 a Georgian house was bought by the Eric and Salome Estorick Foundation. I think it's interesting that the foundation decided to purchase a Georgian house to show the collection, even though the house was not a residence for the Estorick family. I suppose that the foundation wanted to maintain the same domestic environment that is popular in so many "collection museums."

    You can read more about Eric Estorick here and here.

  • womeninart says:

    The Musèe Marmottan in Paris is another excellent collector's museum. And by the way, the Musèe Condè at Chantilly is a composite collector's museum: one of the key collections there is that of Caroline Murat, the sister of Napoleon.

  • M says:

    Thanks for mentioning the Musèe Marmottan in Paris, womeninart! I'll add that to the list. I read online that the museum was established in 1934.

    I also didn't realize that Caroline Murat's collection was at the Musèe Condè at Chantilly! I'll include that change as well.

  • M says:

    My friend Meka also suggested another museum: The Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California. This museum has an interesting history, as it originally developed as the Pasadena Art Institute (1922) and then merged with the Pasadena Museum of Art (1942). Norton Simon took over financial control and naming rights for the museum in 1974-75. Simon was an art collector who was searching for a permanent house for his collection (which includes paintings of Impressionists and Old Masters). He was able to rescue the struggling Pasadena museum and find a house for his collection at the same time.

  • womeninart says:

    Here's a recently published article on the Norton Simon:

  • Val S. says:

    This was such a great post – so many great ideas for travel destinations! And I found out you're in Seattle, M – my favorite city!

    Are you going to post this list on your blog?

  • M says:

    Thanks for the article, womeninart! The book discussed in the article, "Collector without Walls: Norton Simon and His Hunt for the Best," by Sara Campbell, looks really interesting.

    Val S., I'd be happy to put together a comprehensive list on my blog. As comments have been made, I've added some of the museums to this very post (but only the ones that fit within the time period that I am researching). I'll put together a full list in a separate post within the next few days, and I will continually update that post as people give me new information about other "collection museums." Doesn't this make a great list for travel ideas? I told my husband that I wanted to visit each museum mentioned, and he looked aghast (all in good humor).

    Glad to hear that Seattle is your favorite city! You must like the rain.

  • Benjamin (Ben) says:

    I'm glad someone mentioned The John Soane Museum–an absolutely extraordinary collection and architectural space. It's slightly later than your time frame, but Jim Ede's Kettle's Yard is supposed to be great, though I've never visited it. Artists' houses are also worth considering since they were often collectors, too: E.g. Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant's Charleston Farmhouse (Sussex). As a conceptual experiment and experience, I'm also a huge fan of both The Museum of Jurassic Technology (in Culver City, LA) and Lawrence Weschler's wonderful book about it, Mr Wilson's Cabinet of Wonders.

  • M says:

    Thanks for the recommendations, Ben! It looks like Kettle's Yard was begun in 1956, after Jim Ede renovated four derelict cottages in Cambridge. The museum houses modern art.

    Charleston Farmhouse (the country home of the Bloomsbury Group) also looks like a fun place to visit. A Charleston Trust was established in 1980 to restore and maintain the home for public benefit. The collection has been open to the public since 1986.

    The Museum of Jurassic Technology looks like a quirky, fun place, too! The website itself shows off a distinct, fun personality.

  • Zillah says:

    i know it's a bit late, but i echo kiersten. john soane is my favorite collection museum.

  • Glennis McGregor says:

    Great list – I have never been to the Jacquemart-André Museum in Paris, and I'm excited to see they will have a Fra Angelico exhibition this autumn. As I was planning on a day trip to Paris in October – I think I'll make it my destination rather than the Louvre.

    Speaking of other collections I was also very taken with the Peggy Guggenheim house in Venice – she has a great collection of surrealists as I remember.

  • M says:

    Zillah: Let's go there together!

    Glennis McGregor: Thanks for your comment! (And welcome to my blog, I don't think that you have commented before.) I'm sure that the Fra Angelico exhibit at the Jacquemart-André Museum will be very nice. I heard great things about their recent exhibition on the Caillebotte brothers – I wish I could have seen it. Have a great time!

  • Hels says:

    I would say my favourites are The John Soane Museum and The Wallace Collection, both in London. Soane’s treasures were more varied, but the collection is WAY too crowded. Wallace’s home was less crowded and more livable, but the objects are uniformly traditional.

    The best contribution to French artists’ survival was made by The Barnes Foundation. He put food in their bellies and a roof over their heads. Of course I only saw and loved the collection when it was in Merion, Pennsylvania. What will happen to the collection in the future?

    Happy, healthy new year 🙂

  • Anne says:

    I’m not sure if these fit your criteria, they started off as private collections but are now in public ownership, except for the Royal Collections, and new galleries have been built to accommodate the collections.


    The Chester Beatty Library Alfred Chester Beatty’s collection of manuscripts, minatures, drawings and prints which he left to the Irish state.


    The Burrell Collection including medieval tapestries, European art from the Gothic to the Impressionists, Chinese and Islamic art, donated by Sir William Burrell to the City of Glasgow. The website is singularly uninformative

    London, Edinburgh and Windsor

    The Royal Collection is not the creation of one individual but of the British Royal family over half a millennium – paintings, drawings, furniture, sculpture, prints and much much more. It remains the property of the Queen, held in trust by her. There are regular exhibitions at the Queen’s Galleries at Buckingham Palace and at Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, and at the Drawings Gallery at Windsor. There is an excellent website and I particularly recommend the Web Exhibitions as an overview of the range and quality of the collection.

    For Christmas I’ve been given In Search of a Masterpiece: an Art Lover’s Guide to Great Britain and Ireland by Christopher Lloyd, previously Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures, and here you will discover the history of many collections in the British Isles.

  • Thanks for the comments, Anne and Hels. Anne, your suggestions are great. I’ve added your ideas to the “complete” museum list that I’m keeping in a separate post. (I should have added that link to my 2011 recap in the first place.)

    I can’t believe that I forgot the Royal Collection when comprising this list! Boy, this “collection museum” list would not be complete without that one.

  • Anne says:

    What about the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid? An amazing collection from Medieval to Modern, Jan van Eyck to Lucian Freud by way of Raphael, Titian, El Greco, Rubens, Degas, Picasso… Just opposite the Prado and well worth crossing the street.

  • Anne says:

    And the Fondation Maeght in St Paul de Vence in the South of France – contemporary and modern art and sculpture in idyllic linked outdoor and indoor spaces. Founded by the Maeghts, husband and wife, and now supported by the Friends. I saw an amazing Henry Moore retrospective here about ten years ago on a scale I don’t think any one else would attempt. Of the permanent collection, my favourite was the Giacometti Cortyard.

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This blog focuses on making Western art history accessible and interesting to all types of audiences: art historians, students, and anyone else who is curious about art. Alberti’s Window is maintained by Monica Bowen, an art historian and professor.