Walters Art Museum

The Walters Art Museum, located in Mount Vernon-Belvedere, Baltimore, Maryland, is a public art museum founded and opened in 1934, with collections created during the mid-19th Century.

The Museum's collection was amassed substantially by major American art and sculpture collectors, a father and son: William Thompson Walters (William T. Walters), (1819–1894), who began serious collecting when he moved to Paris as a nominal Southern/Confederate sympathizer at the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861; and Henry Walters (1848–1931), who refined the collection and made arrangements for the construction of a later landmark building to rehouse it.

After allowing the Baltimore public to occasionally view his father's and his growing added collections at his West Mount Vernon Place townhouse/mansion during the late 1800s, he arranged for an elaborate stone palazzo-styled structure built for that purpose in 1905–1909, which he then occasionally opened its doors for citizens to tour the rapidly growing collections.

Permanent collection

Ancient art

The Walters' collection of ancient art includes examples from Egypt, Nubia, Greece, Rome, Etruria and the Near East. Highlights include two monumental 3,000-pound statues of the Egyptian lion-headed goddess Sekhmet; the Walters Mummy; alabaster reliefs from the palace of Ashurnasirpal II; Greek gold jewelry, including the Greek bracelets from Olbia on the shores of the Black Sea; the Praxitelean Satyr; a large assemblage of Roman portrait heads; a Roman bronze banquet couch, and marble sarcophagi from the tombs of the prominent Licinian and Calpurnian families.

Art of the ancient Americas

In 1911, Henry Walters purchased almost 100 gold artifacts from the Chiriqui region of western Panama in Central America, creating a core collection of ancient American native art. Through subsequent gifts of art and loans, the Museum has added works, mostly in pottery and stone, from Mexico, Central America and South America, including pieces from the Mesoamerican Olmec, Aztec, and Maya cultures, as well as the Moche and Inca peoples of South America.

Asian art

Highlights of the Asian art collection assembled earlier by Baltimorean father and son collectors William T. and Henry Walters include Japanese arms and armor, and Chinese and Japanese porcelains, lacquers, and metalwork. Among the museum's outstanding works of Asian art is a late 12th- or early 13th-century Cambodian bronze of the eight-armed Avalokiteshvara, a T’ang Dynasty earthenware camel, and an intricately painted Ming Dynasty wine jar. The museum owns the oldest surviving Chinese wood-and-lacquer image of the Buddha (late 6th Century, A.D.). It is exhibited in a gallery dedicated solely to this work.

The Museum holds one of the largest and finest collections of Thai (Siam/Thailand) bronze, scrolls, and banner paintings in the world.

Islamic art

Islamic art in all media is represented at the Walters. Among the highlights are a 7th Century carved and hammered silver bowl from Iran, (ancient Persia); a 13th Century candlestick made of copper, silver, and gold from the Mamluk era in Egypt; 16th Century mausoleum doors decorated with intricate wood carvings in a radiating star pattern; a 17th Century silk sash from the Mughal Empire in India; and a 17th Century Turkish tile with an image of the Masjid al-Haram("Great Mosque of Mecca"), the center of Islam in Mecca, (modern Saudi Arabia). The Walters Museum owns an array of Islamic manuscripts. These include a 15th Century Koran from northern India, executed at the height of the Timurid Empire; a 16th Century copy of the "Khamsa of Nizami (British Library, Or. 12208)|Khamsa" by Amir Khusraw, illustrated by a number of famous artists for the Emperor Akbar; and a Turkish calligraphy album by Sheikh Hamadullah Al-Amasi, one of the greatest calligraphers of all time. Walters Art Museum, MS W.613 contains five Mughal miniatures from a very important "Khamsa of Nizami" made for the Emperor Akbar; the rest are in London, Great Britain.

Medieval art

Henry Walters assembled a collection of art produced during the Middle Ages in all the major artistic media of the period. This forms the basis of the Walters' medieval collection, for which the Museum is best known internationally. Considered one of the best collections of medieval art in the United States, the Museum's holdings include examples of metalwork, sculpture, stained glass, textiles, icons, and other paintings. The collection is especially renowned for its ivories, enamels, reliquaries, early Byzantine silver, post-Byzantine art, illuminated manuscripts, and the largest and finest collection of Ethiopian Christian art outside Ethiopia.

The Walters' medieval collection features unique objects such as the Byzantine agate Rubens Vase that belonged to the painter Rubens (accession no. 42.562) and the earliest-surviving image of the "Virgin of Tenderness", an ivory carving produced in Egypt in the Sixth or Seventh Century (accession no. 71.297). Sculpted heads from the royal Abbey of St. Denis are rare surviving examples of portal sculptures that are directly connected with the origins of Gothic art in 12th Century France (accession nos. 27.21 and 27.22). An ivory casket covered with scenes of jousting knights is one of about a dozen such objects to survive in the world (accession no. 71.264).

Many of these works are on display in the Museum's galleries. Works from the medieval collection are also frequently included in special touring exhibitions, such as "Treasures of Heaven", an exhibition about relics and reliquaries that was on view at the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Walters Art Museum, and the British Museum in London in 2010–11.

Works in the medieval collection are the subject of active research by the curatorial and conservation departments of the museum, and visiting researchers frequently make use of the museum's holdings. In-depth technical research carried on these objects is made available to the public through publications and exhibitions, as in the case of the Amandus Shrine (accession no. 53.9), which was featured in a small special exhibition titled The Special Dead in 2008–09.

There are also Late Medieval devotional Italian paintings by these painters at the Walters: Tommaso da Modena, Pietro Lorenzetti, Andrea di Bartolo ("Resurrection"), Alberto Sotio, Bartolomeo di Tommaso ("Death of Saint Francis"), Naddo Ceccarelli, Master of Saint Verdiana, Niccolo di Segna ("Saint Lucy"), Orcagna, Olivuccio di Ciccarello, Master of Panzano Triptych and Giovanni del Biondo.

Renaissance, Baroque and 18th Century art

The collection of European Renaissance and Baroque art features holdings of paintings, sculpture, furniture, ceramics, metal work, arms and armor. The highlights include Hugo van der Goes' "Donor with Saint John the Baptist", Heemskerck’s "Panorama with the Abduction of Helen Amidst the Wonders of the Ancient World", Giambattista Pittoni's "Sacrifice of Polyxena", the "Madonna of the Candelabra", from the studio of Raphael, Veronese’s "Portrait Of Countess Livia da Porto Thiene and her Daughter Porzia", El Greco's "Saint Francis Receiving the Stigmata", Bernini's "bozzetto" of "Risen Christ", Tiepolo’s "Scipio Africanus Freeing Massiva", and "The Ideal City" attributed to Fra Carnevale. The museum has one of ten surviving examples of the Sèvres pot-pourri vase in the shape of a ship from the 1750s and 1760s.

19th Century art

William and Henry Walters collected works by late 19th Century French academic masters and Impressionists. Highlights of the collection include "Odalisque with Slave" by Ingres (a second version); Claude Monet’s "Springtime"; Alfred Sisley's panoramic view of the Seine Valley; and Édouard Manet’s realist masterpiece, "The Café Concert".

Henry Walters was particularly interested in the courtly arts of 18th Century France. The museum’s collection of Sèvres porcelain includes a number of pieces that were made for members of the Royal Bourbon Court at Versailles Palace outside of Paris. Portrait miniatures and the examples of goldsmiths' works, especially snuffboxes and watches, are displayed in the Treasury, along with some exceptional 19th- and early 20th-century works. Among them are examples of Art Nouveau-styled jewelry by René Lalique, jeweled objects by the House of Fabergé, including two Russian Imperial Easter eggs, and precious jewels by Tiffany and Co. of New York City.

The Walters’ collection presents an overview of 19th Century European art, particularly art from France. From the first half of the century come major paintings by Ingres, Géricault, and Delacroix. William Walters stayed in Paris with his family during the Civil War, because of his notorious Southern-leanings, and he soon developed a keen interest in contemporary European painting. He either commissioned directly from the artists or purchased at auctions such major works by the Barbizon masters, including Jean-François Millet and Henri Rousseau; the academic masters Jean-Léon Gérôme and Lawrence Alma-Tadema; and even the modernists Monet, Manet, and Sisley, the Italian Antonio Rotta.

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Country
America United States Mid-Atlantic
Institution type
Foreign Institutions Museums and libraries