Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Warren's Art Collection

Ebenezer Burgess Warren, a Philadelphia capitalist and philanthropist, began collecting art about 1873 when he retired from his business interests during the economic panic. A well-known art critic for an article requested by the International Studio in London described Mr. Warren:

"Mr. E. Burgess Warren has gathered a most interesting collection of modern pictures; in fact, has made his selection with fresh judgment and a criterion of actual preference.

Mr. Warren has had his opinions many years, so many, by the way, that he has seen the art estimate change until the pictures he first admired are now considered among the most admirable art treasures. He has a perfect art history of Corot in examples of his work from the beginning of his career. He has mile-posts of Millet on the long road that artist pursued from obscurity to fame, and of Daubigny from the searching after technic to the unconscious mastery of it; and the same may be said of his Rousseaus. He has the art lover's collection, the pictures that convey the personal note.

A Morning Dance of Nymphs by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Cordot circa 1850;
courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Morning on the Oise by Charles-Francois Daubigny, 1866; courtesy The Paine

Mr. Warren's collection numbers over eighty pictures, the most of them a synthetic study of the Barbizon painters; around which are grouped the correlative examples of the period preceding this school and the more recent art that has sought to break away, yet nevertheless has really emanated from it. Of this latter, there are examples of Jacque, Dagnan-Bouveret, Cazin, de Neuville, Lhermitte, Isbey, and others, but the Barbizon remains both the nucleus and the accomplishment. Mr. Warren has had no academic training as an art critic; he has never attended art lectures nor gone into it except in a detached way, and his higher education at Harvard was devoted to chemistry and scientific investigation. Since then he has pursued the life of a business man. But the main-spring of his love for art was native, and it was widened by his love for nature when he was a boy in the Green Mountains of Vermont. From that closeness to nature has come the love of nature in art; so it is that the great painters of the Oise have been the most attractive to him, penetrated as their works are with beauty and the full of the spirit of dedication.

The Storm by Narcisse-Virgilio Diaz de la Pena, 1871; courtesy of National
The Approaching Storm by George Morland, 1793, private collection;
courtesy The Athenaeum

In a social conversation Mr. Warren gave the history of his collection. With the first idea of it in mind, it was decided that the pictures were to be bought solely as a matter of pleasure to himself and his family. It was agreed that the pictures were to be of such character as would make them personally desirable; they were to be beautiful in art and tendency and altogether representative of the labor of love they really sought to be. That was the beginning; but while holding to those tenets, it quickly resolved itself into an education of a peculiar and wonderful phase of art, its significance as a collection lying in the pictorial history of the Barbizon school, with the art events that led up to it, and the gradual departure from it to the days of Raffaelli. The development of the school he has traced through Moreland, Constable, and Gainsborough, in England, and through Michel, in France, to the Barbizon painters, and has collected enough of these old masters to show the breaking away from the classic school.

The Barbizon was to be the heart of the collection, and while he did not oftentimes possess the most noted pictures of each individual artist, he had carefully chosen such pictures as represented the different periods of his development; as an instance of this, a little Millet may be cited, of the period when the painter very highly finished his work. This painting was said by Francois Millet to be the most excellent example that he had seen of the time when his father went so carefully into detail. Taking all this into consideration, Mr. Warren's collection as it stands, for a critical estimate of the Barbizon school, can safely be said to be the best in America and one of the very best extant. But, valuable as each picture must be, one never hears them rated in a commercial sense. The art is paramount."

Davis, Betsey Warren. The Warren, Jackson, and Allied Families Being the Ancestry of Jesse Warren and Betsey Jackson(Philadelphia, PA: J. B. Lippincott Co., 1903), pages 1-284.

Warren's Thrilling Escape
The Sagamore Investors: Ebenezer Burgess Warren (1833-1917)
Christmas Eve at the Sagamore

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