The Founding Collection
The Matthias H. Arnot Bequest is unique for its reflection of the tastes and intentions of the late nineteenth-century American collectors who amassed extensive collections of paintings by contemporary European Salon artists on a modest foundation of Old Master works. One of the few remaining private collections of the past century to be housed in its original showcase, the Arnot Art Museum’s Founding Collection is as well-known for the art as the setting in which it is displayed. The Victorian Picture Gallery of the Museum remains as it was during Matthias Arnot's lifetime and houses the majority of the European painting collection. The Gallery is hung in the traditional salon-style, popular in both Victorian America and Europe. The Picture Gallery provides a link with the past and a familiar point of re-acquaintance for our various audiences.
Arnot's first art purchases were made in Rome in 1869-70 when he commissioned a marble bust of his father from Chauncey Bradley Ives. He continued to purchase on subsequent trips to Europe as well as at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876.
In 1882 Arnot’s collecting gained him international fame when he attended the sale of the Hamilton Palace collection. The London correspondent for the New York Tribune noted, “An American named Arnot has suddenly become an object of interest in London… There was a moment when Mr. Vanderbilt was expected to buy pretty much the entire contents of the palace. Whether any of the great dealers have been acting for unnamed American clients nobody can be quite sure, but the impression is that no formidable competitor from America has had much to do with the bidding prior to Mr. Arnot.”
In the 1890s Mr. Arnot commissioned the construction of the Picture Gallery to house his growing collection. His gallery was typical of the private art galleries found in the homes of many wealthy Americans in the late nineteenth-century. The Matthias Arnot Collection is composed of some of the greatest names in European painting and represents several movements in that genre. The collection of seventeenth-century masterworks include such Baroque artists as Claude, Murillo, Brueghel, de Lorme, Teniers and van de Velde. With a heightened sense of drama typical of this time period, the portraits, landscapes, mythological and genre scenes continue to capture the viewer and inspire curiosity about the Old Masters. Matthias Arnot’s legacy continues to make it possible for generations of area school children and adults to learn about, experience and create art.