Art Curatorial Library/Archives

“How much is that Braque in the window?”

Mrs. Harry L. Bradley

In response to a recent research request, I stumbled upon a Milwaukee Journal article titled “How Much Is That Braque in the Window?” Who could resist a title like that? I had to read on.

The article, dated January 4, 1959, follows the fascinating Bradley family and their passion for collecting art—a passion that began in 1950 with their first purchase. While traveling in New York for business, Mrs. Harry L. Bradley recalled, “I was walking along 57th St. … and suddenly there was a painting in a window that, for the first time, I thought I might buy. … It turned out to be a Braque and the price was a shocker.” The Bradleys talked it over and decided to go ahead with the purchase. And so, a world-class art collection was born.

To see the modern paintings hung in their River Hills home for the first time was a thrill for Mrs. Bradley. She recounts the experience, “before that place had been hung with ancestral portraits, all rather dim and all rather dull. After the new paintings had been up a month or so, we thought maybe we’d better change back. We did and we couldn’t stand it.”

As the years passed, their collection grew. While Mr. Bradley retained “veto power on everything,” Mrs. Bradley relied on her own instincts, using neither dealers nor popular art magazines as guides. In the nine years between that 1959 article and the 1950 first purchase of the Braque, works by Pablo Picasso, Emil Nolde, Alexej von Jawlensky, Marc Chagall, Georges Rouault, Fernand Léger, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, to name a few, were quickly added to their collection.

In his closing remarks, the author writes, “the existence of a collection affects the community it lives in by its shining evidence that beauty exists and is a thing to be cared for. That evidence is the abiding contribution of the Bradleys to art in Milwaukee.” Twenty-five years after the purchase of the Braque, spurred on by a challenge grant, the Milwaukee Art Center (known today as the Milwaukee Art Museum) inaugurated the newly built Bradley Wing in 1975 to house the magnificent Bradley collection and share its legacy.

Click here to view objects from the Mrs. Harry L. Bradley Collection, including the Georges Braque.

Reference: Getlein, Frank. 1959. “Bradley Collection Built by Looking and Liking: Important Milwaukee Group of French and German Paintings was Started in 1950 With a Question: ‘How Much Is That Braque in the Window?’” Milwaukee Journal. January 4, 1959.

Heather Winter manages and oversees the Museum’s George Peckham Miller Art Research Library, the institutional archives and the rare books collection.

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