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Lecture: Robber Baron Collectors of the Gilded Age: Morgan, Frick, De Young

Colin B. Bailey, Director, Morgan Library & Museum
Sat, May 5, 2018

In his comic novel The Outcry, published in 1911, Henry James characterizes the American robber baron collectors as the "conquering horde . . . only armed now with huge chequebooks instead of spears and battle-axes." The creation of outstanding private collections of European art in America was a phenomenon of the Gilded Age. James based the character of the American banker, Breckenridge Bender—"the wretch who bagged Lady Lappington’s Longhi"—on John Pierpont Morgan (1837‒1913), one of the three collectors discussed in this lecture. Morgan is joined by two younger "squillionaires"—as Bernard and Mary Berenson called them—born the same year: Henry Clay Frick (1849‒1919), the Pittsburgh industrialist, and Michael Henry De Young (1849‒1925), founder of San Francisco’s Daily Dramatic Chronicle. All three have left institutions that bear their names; yet, as Colin Bailey examines, they can be seen as quite distinct in their taste, education and motivation as collectors and founders of museums.

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