Henry Walters Made Some Mistakes

Henry Walters
Henry Walters

Yes, it’s true. And all you have to do to uncover them is to get your hands on the first Walters “Handbook of the Collection,” from 1936, and compare it with the 1997 Handbook.

About a quarter of the works in the later book were acquired by the museum after Henry died, in 1931. Most of these are Asian objects, donated by regional collectors, but there is Ethiopian art as well, which came into the collection by purchase in the 1990s.

But there was, in the 1930s Walters, a Canaletto “View of the Doges’ Palace,” which wasn’t a Canaletto after all, and a Rembrandt portrait of his wife, which turn out to be wishful thinking.

But strangest of all is Gallery XII of the origianl Walters; it was the English Gallery, with all the English greats, including  Hogarth, Gainsborough, Reynolds, and Constable.

You’ll find none of these paintings on the walls the Walters of 2009; they simply didn’t pass the test of time, and are now bearing other labels, in deep storage.

All great collectors make mistakes, and Henry Walters was no exception. The amazing thing is how often he got it right.