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.”


Book Review: "The Origins of Baroque Art in Rome" by Alois Riegl

Today I finished reading Riegl’s The Origins of Baroque Art in Rome (2009, Getty Publications). As I mentioned in an earlier post, this publication is very significant, since it is the first time that Riegl’s writings on Baroque art have been translated into English. Apart from a few introductory essays, this book is comprised of Riegl’s lecture notes. Riegl taught lectures on Baroque art during three different university semesters in the late 19th and early 20th century. These lecture notes were first published posthumously in 1908, and now have appeared in English almost a century later!1

I have to say, I think that this book is very interesting in many respects, but it’s not a book for someone who has a casual interest in Baroque art. Although Riegl’s lecture notes are written in a relatively approachable manner (since the text was written with the intent of being spoken in a lecture hall), the publication itself is rather dense. Riegl takes many specific arguments in his lectures, and he assumes that his audience already has a solid foundation of Renaissance history. In fact, much of this book discusses Renaissance art, as opposed to the Baroque art that is commonly found in today’s art history textbooks. For example, I was surprised to see more discussion of Bramante than Borromini (the latter was hardly mentioned at all!).

One of Riegl’s arguments is that Michelangelo and Correggio should be seen as the earliest predecessors of the Baroque style. I think this is an interesting argument. On a whole, I think that today’s Baroque scholars don’t give a lot of attention or emphasis to Michelangelo, at least in comparison with Riegl. Michelangelo really is the core of Riegl’s text. I think that today it is more common for people to think of Correggio as a “proto-Baroque” artist than Michelangelo. Perhaps 20th and 21st century Renaissance scholarship has such a vice-like grip on Michelangelo, that Baroque scholarship has been forced to back off a little bit?

I thought quite a bit about historiography while reading this book, and it wasn’t just because I noticed a discrepancy between today’s scholarship and Riegl’s treatment of Michelangelo. Riegl also made a passing comment about naturalism, which caught my attention: “Naturally, for us northerners the naturalists are the most interesting [artists to discuss].”2 As an Austrian art historian, Riegl realized that his geographic area and cultural origins influenced the way he responded to artistic style. Is there more scholarly interest in “naturalist” Baroque artists because so many great Baroque art historians came from Germany and Austria? Perhaps so!3

As for the publication itself, I liked that many of the key ideas and artists were highlighted in bold text. This small detail helps the viewer to maneuver and search through the text quite easily. On the other hand, I was disappointed to see so few images included in the publication – and the images that are included are only black and white! Although I have a solid foundation of Renaissance/Baroque sculpture and painting, I am less familiar with the secular architecture that is produced during those periods. Without images to help me visualize Riegl’s descriptions of the architectural pieces, I found myself a little bored and frustrated in that section of the text.

That being said, I really enjoyed reading the sections about painting and sculpture; I wasn’t bothered by the lack of images since I am familiar with the works of art that were discussed. Since I had this mixed reaction to the images (and lack of images!) in this book, I really would recommend this book only to Renaissance and Baroque scholars. Without many pictures to entice or engage the casual reader, this publication could disappoint. However, if you are interested in early Baroque scholarship and historiography, this is a great resource!

1 Riegl died in 1905 at the young age of 47.

2 Alois Riegl, The Origins of Baroque Art in Rome (Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2009), 216.

3 One such “naturalist” artist is Caravaggio, as opposed to more-so classical artists (or “eclectic” artists, to use Riegl’s term) like the Carracci and Guido Reni. I personally think there is more interest in Baroque naturalism today, but I’m biased toward Caravaggio myself!

Thank you to H Niyazi of Three Pipe Problem, Inbooks and Getty Research Institute for supplying the review copy.


Altar of Pergamon and Baroque Scholarship

I’m in the middle of reading The Origins of the Baroque Art in Rome by Alois Riegl. This recent publication is a really exciting and influential textbook in its own right, since it is the first time that Riegl’s essays on Baroque art have been translated into English. I plan on writing a full review of the book very soon, but I just wanted to write something that I found particularly interesting.

As an introduction to Riegl’s discussion of Baroque art, this book is prefaced with three essays. These essays largely deal with historiography in regards to Baroque scholarship. It’s pretty fascinating stuff. I was particularly interested in the discussion about the excavation of the Altar of Pergamon in the late 19th century. Fragments of the altar started to arrive in Berlin in 1879 (which, incidentally, was the same year that prehistoric cave paintings were first discovered. But that’s a topic for another day. My point: 1879 was a big year for art history.)

The Altar of Pergamon is from the Greek Hellenistic period (c. 175-150 BCE). It was excavated in the late 19th century by Carl Humann, a German road construction engineer. The continuous frieze depicts the Gigantomachy (“Battle of the Giants”) with extremely high relief figures, dramatic emotional expressions, lots of diagonal compositions, and light/dark contrasts (see detail on left). Baroque scholars (such as myself) eat this kind of stuff up, since the stylistic characteristics are very similar to those of the Baroque period. I think that even the placement of the frieze near the steps (as opposed to being placed above the columns, which is the traditional location for an Ionic frieze) ties into the Baroque characteristics of viewer participation and involvement.

So, how did the arrival of the Altar of Pergamon in Berlin change scholarship on Baroque art? Before this point, the Baroque period had been viewed with some disdain by art historians and scholars. In fact, in the 18th century Winckelmann used the word “baroque” as an abusive term (and unsurprisingly, Winckelmann also disliked Hellenistic art!). But the unquestionable quality of the Pergamon frieze caused 19th century scholars to reassess their previous negative interpretations of not only Hellenistic art, but Baroque art as well. In fact, the Hellenistic period began to be known by scholars as the “ancient Baroque.”2

Consequently, because of the Altar of Pergamon’s influence, German art historians began to write about Baroque art. Heinirch Wölfflin wrote his seminal book Renaissance and Baroque in 1888, less than a decade after the Pergamon altar began to arrive in Berlin. Wölfflin even wrote in the preface “that he had intended to include an evaluation of the ‘ancient Baroque’ but that his ‘little book’ did not afford enough scope for this project, and he promised to return to it at a later date.”2 Unfortunately, Wölfflin never returned to write about the “ancient Baroque,” though other scholars (such as Arnold von Salis) did. Now, I think that Baroque scholars take the connection between the Hellenistic and Baroque period for granted. But Baroque scholarship is quite indebted to the Altar of Pergamon. Without the arrival of the altar in Berlin, perhaps “baroque” would still be a demeaning term in art history.

1 Alina Payne, “Beyond Kunstwollen: Alois Riegl and the Baroque” in The Origins of Baroque Art in Rome by Andrew Hopkins and Arnold Witte, eds. (Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2010), 8.

2 Ibid.

*Image for Pergamon altar photograph © Raimond Spekking (via Wikimedia Commons) CC-BY-SA-3.0


Condivi and Michelangelo’s "Pietà"

Well my friends, I think I may have found another minor error in an art history textbook. The textbook I use for my Renaissance classes, The Changing Status of the Artist, says the following: “Ascanio Condivi recorded that his friend Michelangelo carved himself in the guise of Nicodemus mourning over the dead Christ”1. This seemingly insignificant comment has captured my attention for several months, and consequently I have long wanted to read Condivi’s biography of Michelangelo (first printed 1553). Now that the school quarter is finished, I finally found time to read the biography this past weekend. But when I got to Condivi’s discussion on the Duomo Pietà (c. 1550, see below), I couldn’t find any discussion about a self-portrait! Only in the footnote of biography did I notice this information from the editor: “The figure of Nicodemus, according to a letter from Vasari to Michelangelo’s nephew Leonardo shortly after the artist’s death, is a self-portrait”2

Now, in the great scheme of things, perhaps it isn’t too a big deal that my textbook misattributed this self-portrait information to Condivi instead of Vasari. I understand that. But I also am in favor of historical accuracy, and I thought I would put the record straight here. If any of my past students are reading this, please make a note of the error on page 69 of your textbook!

That being said, this misattribution happily led me to become familiar with Condivi’s book first-hand. Many scholars believe that Condivi’s work is the best account of Michelangelo’s life; this book can practically be considered an autobiography. Condivi wrote that he got his information “with long patience from the living oracle of his [master’s] speech.”3 It appears that Michelangelo wanted this biography to be written for two reasons: 1) to correct omissions and errors about Michelangelo that appeared in Vasari’s first edition of Lives of the Artists and 2) to exonerate Michelangelo from accusations that he deceived the heirs of Julius II and embezzled sums of money (in regards to Michelangelo’s seemingly-endless sculptural project for Pope Julius II’s tomb).

Condivi’s biography is a great resource for any Renaissance scholar, and it’s a rather quick read. And although I didn’t read any new information about Michelangelo’s self-portrait on the Duomo Pietà, I was prompted to consider reasons why Michelangelo included his self-portrait. Condivi wrote that “Michelangelo plans to donate this Pietà to some church and to have himself buried at the foot of the altar where it is placed.”4

So, if this was to be a funerary function in some sense, Michelangelo may have wanted to include his portrait as part of the traditional convention to represent an image of the deceased on funerary monuments. Michelangelo may have also identified with Nicodemus for either spiritual or personal reasons. For example, according to legend, Nicodemus was a sculptor.5

However, this Pietà never was placed next to Michelangelo’s tomb. Vasari, who designed Michelangelo’s tomb, unsuccessfully tried to acquire the Pietà from the family who owned the sculpture at the time. However, I think it’s best that Vasari didn’t get his hands on the Pietà: it appears that Michelangelo changed his mind and didn’t want the sculpture for his tomb after all. In 1555, two years after Condivi wrote his biography, Michelangelo abandoned and mutilated the Pietà. He then sold the sculpture in 1561 to his friend Francesco Bandini, a Florentine banker in Rome. So if Michelangelo sold the sculpture, it’s very likely that he had no intention of using the sculpture on his own tomb. In a way, I’m surprised that Vasari didn’t pick up on that simple concept.

A lot of scholars have discussed and analyzed why Michelangelo mutilated the Duomo Pietà, and I think I will compile some thoughts in a forthcoming post. Stay tuned!

1 Catherine King, “Italian Artists in Search of Virtue, Fame, and Honor c. 1450-1650,” in The Changing Status of the Artist by Emma Barker, Nick Webb and Kim Woods, eds. (London: Yale University Press, 1999), 69.

2 Ascanio Condivi, The Life of Michelangelo, translated by Alice Sedgwick Wohl, edited by Hellmut Wohl, 2nd ed. (University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999), 140 (my emphasis). I realize that the Changing Status textbook could be referring to something else written by Condivi besides his biography (such as a letter), but I highly doubt it. The editor of this Condivi text probably would have mentioned if Condivi had written anything about Michelangelo’s self-portrait, instead of only mentioning this letter by Vasari.

3 Ibid., xvi-xviii.

4 Ibid., 90. Michelangelo wanted to be buried in Santa Maria Maggiore, but was actually interred in the Florentine church Santa Croce. Vasari writes details of the internment (and opening Michelangelo’s casket to reveal a body untouched by decay!) in his second version of Lives of the Artists (1568). See Giorgio Vasari, The Lives of the Artists, translation by Julia Conway Bondanella and Peter Bondanella (London: Oxford University Press, 1991), 486.

5 King, 69.


Art History Buffness

Some of you may have noticed the new list of “40 Books that Art History Buffs Love,” which was recently compiled by Accredited Online Colleges. I looked through the list, and noticed that I have read (or at least read a good portion from) twelve out of the forty books listed. By my calculations, that means that I’m 30% of an art history buff, right?

I tweeted about my 30% buff-ness online, and my friend heidenkind jokingly made me this button. (I think she threw in an extra 10% for good measure, which is great – then I get a little bit of a reading buffer while building up my buff-ness!)

What percentage of art historical buff-ness are you? Any books that you want to read from the list, or have no desire to read? I think there are a lot more books that I would add to the list (why isn’t there anything by Winckelmann or Burckhardt?!?). And I’d probably take out a few books that are on there – I’ve never even heard of the Cezanne book by Rainer Maria Rilke…


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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.