American Art Collection Curatorial

Who’s That Girl?

For years, she was just a pretty face.

Now, we’re close to identifying the sitter of this elegant portrait by artist Rembrandt Peale (1778-1860).

When this portrait was given to the Museum in 1961 by Mr. and Mrs. Maurice Berger, it was known simply as Portrait of a Lady.  The painting had been passed down through a South Carolina family with New York origins and was sold through a gallery in Boston.  At that time, the last owners knew this mystery woman was a relative, but weren’t exactly sure which long-lost great-great auntie she was.

Anyone who works with portraits knows how these things happen.  Sadly, it’s not an uncommon story.   As time and generations pass, people forget just who is in that canvas.  It happens to us, too.

Go dig your first-grade class photo out of that box in your basement and try to remember the names of all your classmates in each row.  It’s the reason your mother was always after you to write on the back of photographs, back when photographs were on paper instead of your hard drive.  Or why we tag images now on Facebook.

American Art Collection Curatorial

Refreshed Look for the American Paintings Galleries

American Paintings gallery, August 2011. Photo by Mel Buchanan.
Milwaukee Art Museum American Paintings gallery, August 2011 reinstallation. Photo by Mel Buchanan.

The newly reinstalled galleries in the Museum’s lower level offer a survey of the American paintings collections from the Colonial era to the turn of the 20th century.  The nearly fifty objects on view showcase not only a history of American art, but also the history of the Museum’s interest in American art.

Around half of the paintings on view are part of the Layton Art Collection, Milwaukee’s first public art gallery and our present-day Museum’s parent organization. The Layton Art Gallery was founded by meat packer and philanthropist Frederick Layton in 1888, and you’ll find Layton’s monumental 1893 portrait by Eastman Johnson still on view in the newly-installed American painting gallery.

The other half of the collections on view represents works acquired by the Museum as gifts and purchases, both before and after its 1957 merger with the Layton Art Gallery.

Old favorites remain, but there are many new additions pulled from Museum storage.