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The Walters Art Museum

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Title: The Walters Art Museum  
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The Walters Art Museum

Walters Art Museum
Charles Street entrance to the Walters Art Museum
Established 1934
Location Mount Vernon Baltimore, Maryland
Type Art museum
Director Julia Marciari-Alexander
Website Official Website

The Walters Art Museum, located in Baltimore, Maryland's Mount Vernon neighborhood, is a public art museum founded in 1934. The museum's collection was amassed substantially by two men, William Thompson Walters (1819–1894), who began serious collecting when he moved to Paris at the outbreak of the American Civil War, and his son Henry Walters (1848–1931), who refined the collection and rehoused it in a palazzo building on Charles Street which opened in 1909. Upon his death, Henry Walters bequeathed the collection of over 22,000 works and the original Charles Street palazzo building to the city of Baltimore, “for the benefit of the public.” The collection touches masterworks of ancient Egypt, Greek sculpture and Roman sarcophagi, medieval ivories, illuminated manuscripts, Renaissance bronzes, Old Master and 19th-century paintings, Chinese ceramics and bronzes, and Art Deco jewelry.

In 2000, the Walters Art Gallery changed its name to the Walters Art Museum to reflect its image as a large public institution. The following year, the museum reopened its largest building after a dramatic three-year renovation. The Walters Art Museum is where the Archimedes Palimpsest is on loan from a private collector for conservation and spectral imaging studies.

Starting Sunday, October 1, 2006, the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Walters Art Museum began having free admission year-round as a result of grants given by Baltimore City and Baltimore County.[1] In 2012 the museum released nearly 20,000 of its own images of the collections on a Creative Commons license, and collaborated in their upload to Commons,[2] one of the largest and most comprehensive such releases made by any museum.

Coordinates: 39°17′48″N 76°36′58″W / 39.29667°N 76.61611°W / 39.29667; -76.61611

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, creating a core collection of ancient American art. Through gifts of art and loans, the museum has added works, mostly in pottery and stone, from Central and South America, including pieces from the Mesoamerican Olmec, Aztec, and Maya cultures, as well as the Moche and Inca peoples of eastern South America.

Asian art

Highlights of the Asian art collection assembled by William and Henry Walters include Japanese arms and armor, 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 AD), which is exhibited in a gallery dedicated solely to this work.

The museum now houses one of the largest and finest collections of Thai bronze, scrolls, and banner paintings in the world.

Islamic art

Islamic art in all media are represented at the Walters. Among the highlights are a 7th-century carved and hammered silver bowl from Iran; a 13th-century candlestick made of copper, silver, and gold from Mamluk Egypt; 16th-century mausoleum doors decorated with intricate wood carvings in a radiating star pattern; a 17th-century silk sash from Moghul India; and a 17th-century Turkish tile with an image of the Great Mosque of Mecca. The 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 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 Akbar; the rest are in London.

Medieval art

Henry Walters assembled a collection of art produced during the Middle Ages in all the major artistic media of the period, and this now forms the basis of the Walters' medieval collection, for which the museum is best known internationally. 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 like 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 only 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, but works from the medieval collection are also frequently included in special 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 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 Da Camerino,Master of Panzano Triptych,and Giovanni Dei Biondo.

Renaissance and Baroque 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, 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.

Eighteenth and nineteenth-century art

William and Henry Walters collected works by both 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 court at Versailles. 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 jewelry by René Lalique, jeweled objects by the House of Fabergé, including two Russian imperial Easter eggs, and precious jewels by Tiffany and Co. 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. As a result of his stay in Paris with his family during the Civil War, William Walters developed a keen interest in contemporary European painting. He either commissioned directly from the artists or purchased at auctions major works by the Barbizon masters, including Millet and Rousseau, the academic masters Gérôme and Alma-Tadema, and the modernists Monet, Manet, and Sisley.

Drawings in the Walters Art Museum

Museum buildings

The Charles Street building

Henry Walters’ original gallery was designed by William Adams Delano and erected between 1904 and 1909. Its exterior was inspired by the Renaissance-revival style Hôtel Pourtalès in Paris and its interior was modeled after the 17th-century Collegio dei Gesuiti (now the Palazzo dell’Università) built by the Balbi family for the Jesuits in Genoa. The arts of the Renaissance and Baroque periods, French decorative arts of the 18th and 19th centuries, and manuscripts and rare books are now exhibited in this palazzo-like building.[3]

The Centre Street building

Designed by the Boston firm of Shepley, Bullfinch, Richardson, and Abbott, in the “Brutalist” style prevailing in the 1960s, this building opened in 1974. It was substantially altered in 1998-2001 by Kallmann McKinnell and Wood Architects,[4] to allow for a four-story glass atrium, a suspended staircase, a café and an enlarged museum store and a library. The ancient, Byzantine, medieval, Ethiopian, and 19th-century European collections are housed in this building as is the museum’s conservation laboratory, which is one of the oldest in the country.[5]

Hackerman House

This Greek-revival mansion, designed by John Rudolph Niernsee and erected between 1848 and 1850 for Dr. John Hanson Thomas, was long regarded as the most “elegant” house in Mount Vernon Place. Among the Thomas’s distinguished guests were the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII, and General Kossuth, the Hungarian freedom fighter. Since 1991, the house has been devoted to the Walters’ holdings of Asian art.[6]

Select works from the museum collection

See also



  • The Walters Art Gallery, Guide to the Collections, 1997, Scala Books, ISBN 0-911886-48-6
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Further reading

  • Gruelle, R. B., Collection of William Thompson Walters (Boston 1895)
  • Bushnell, S. W., Oriental Ceramic Art Collections of William Thompson Walters (New York 1899)

External links

  • Walters Art Museum official website
  • Walters Art Museum online collection
  • Archimedes Palimpsest Project Web Page
  • Walters Art Museum (entrance) on Google Street View
  • Collaboration Between Walters Art Museum and Commons
  • Walters Art Gallery, 600 North Charles Street, Baltimore, Baltimore, MD at the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS)
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