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Reinstalling the Nineteenth-Century Paintings Collection

This spring the Walters will welcome back forty of its best-known paintings. J.A.D. Ingres’ Oedipus and the Sphinx, Claude Monet’s Springtime and many more will return to the galleries from a triumphant year-long tour in the traveling exhibition Masterpieces of Nineteenth-Century Painting from the Walters Art Museum. The exhibition opened at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art (January 30–May 30, 2010) and followed with a record-breaking run at the University of Texas’s Blanton Museum of Art (October 2, 2010–January 2, 2011). Early summer will also see the return of an important group of works from the acclaimed exhibition The Spectacular Art of Jean-Léon Gérôme (The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, June 15–September 12, 2010; Musée d’Orsay, Paris, October 19, 2010–January 23, 2011; Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, March 1–May 22, 2011). Gérôme’s harlequins and emperors will find their way back onto the walls this August.

The Salon, Exoticism, and 19th Century Galleries #405 and #406 will be open until June 27th, at which point they will close again until August 6, 2011 for reinstallation. The 4th floor lobby and all other galleries will remain open on that floor.

In celebration of the return of the collections, the museum is rehanging its fourth floor in a new display that highlights the origins of the collection. Drawing on the research of the collection's curator and curator emeritus William Johnston, the galleries traces the development of the William and Henry Walters' taste in painting, from the patronage of Baltimore artists in the 1850s, through William's first encounter with the Parisian art world in the 1860s, to the turn of the twentieth century, when Henry Walters collected for the public institution that his family's art gallery was soon to become.

In many ways, the nineteenth-century painting collection is the most personal of the Walters' holdings. William Walters began buying art seriously when he and his young family moved to Mount Vernon Place in 1857, and his early purchases were made to be hung on the walls of his home. From the first, he established relation- ships directly with artists, sponsoring William Henry Rinehart's (1825–1874) training in Rome as early as 1855. A number of Rinehart's marble busts of mem- bers of the Walters family can be seen on the fourth floor of the museum. During the Walters family's sojourn in Europe during the Civil War (1861–1865), when William's collecting interests shifted toward French art, he continued, both in person and through his agent, George Lucas (1824–1909), to buy work directly from living artists. In 1862 William initiated what was to become one of his most cherished artistic relationships by commissioning a group of bronzes from the animalier Antoine-Louis Barye (1795–1875). It is worth remembering that at the same time that William and later Henry were acquiring treasures of eighteenth-century porcelain, Japanese metalwork and medieval manuscripts, this was their collection of contemporary art.

The reinstallation of the Walters' nineteenth-century painting collection will take place in two phases this spring and summer. The first phase opened April 2 with the rehanging of the outer circuit of paintings, including the museum's exemplary holdings of Barbizon landscape, Realist, Historicist and Impressionist art. During the second phase, scheduled for July and August of 2011, we will refresh the décor and represent our two Salon-style galleries, showing more of the small-scale genre works and Orientalist paintings that are a particularly delightful aspect of the museum's nineteenth- century holdings.

–Alicia Weisberg-Roberts,
Assistant Curator of 18th- and 19th-Century Art

Magazine CoverThis article is excerpted from the Members Magazine, published three times a year by the Walters Art Museum. Members of the museum receive a free subscription to the magazine, which includes informative and entertaining articles like the one you see here. To get your subscription, sign up online.