New Book Entitled Layton’s Legacy – A Historic American Art Collection, Sheds Light on Milwaukee’s Noteworthy Cultural Arts History
GREENFIELD, Wis -- If you ask any Milwaukeean if they’ve traveled on Layton Avenue, most will reply, “yes.” However, very few will know anything about the man whose name is attached to this busy street. This may be in part because when Frederick Layton died in 1919, he left behind no offspring, and some of his greatest gifts, the art gallery and art school named after him, were demolished years ago. The nationally renowned Layton Art Gallery building was torn down to make room for a parking lot in 1957. The Layton School of Art closed as well to make room for a freeway that was never built. Luckily, six of the school’s faculty members went on to found the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design, and the core collection of the original Layton Art Gallery can still be seen today at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Because of the recent discovery of Layton family papers, travel journals, and vintage photographs, the critical role that Frederick Layton played in developing the city’s love for fine arts and culture can’t be overlooked.
A new book entitled Layton’s Legacy – A Historic American Art Collection 1888-2013, by Milwaukee historian John C. Eastberg and architectural historian Eric Vogel, is shedding some light on Milwaukee’s most important early patron of the arts. Frederick Layton (1827–1919) was an English immigrant who in 1845 began what was to become a hugely successful transatlantic business in Milwaukee. During his career, he made 99 trips between England and America. He became a cultural ambassador for Milwaukee, exporting his fine hams and pork to Great Britain and importing European paintings and sculpture to Milwaukee.
In the late 1880s, Layton was among the very first American art collectors to create a new art museum experience in the United States when he generously funded a purpose built, single patron art gallery and put 38 pieces from his personal art collection on display for the public's enjoyment. In 1888, when the Layton Art Gallery opened on the northeast corner of Jefferson and Mason, it represented a new model for civic art museums in America (a model which had only been seen before at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., which opened in 1874). The single story, top-lit, urban art gallery offered a more refined, intimate visual experience when compared to the established public art museums of Boston and New York, and would ultimately influence the development of the single patron American art museum well into the twentieth century.
In addition to building the Layton Art Gallery, Layton funded a $100,000 endowment to ensure the future success of the gallery. After his death, in the 1920s and 1930s, and under the leadership of Charlotte Partridge, the Layton Art Gallery broadened its activities. It lent artworks, dedicated one of its galleries to Wisconsin art, formed the Layton School of Art, and organized traveling exhibitions. In 1957, the Layton Art Gallery and Milwaukee Art Institute moved their collections into the Milwaukee County War Memorial, a building which led the effort to transform Milwaukee’s lakefront. Since 1972, the Layton Art Collection has continued to acquire works of art, to conserve its historic collection and to sponsor exhibits and lectures at the Milwaukee Art Museum. In recent years, the Collection has focused on enhancing its American holdings with major acquisitions of early American furniture and decorative arts. The extraordinary growth in this area has helped earn the Milwaukee Art Museum's American collections a national reputation.
Layton’s Legacy – A Historic American Art Collection 1888-2013 traces the history of the Layton Art Gallery over the course of six generations, starting with Frederick Layton, then focusing on Layton Art Gallery director Charlotte Partridge, and finally ending with the contributions of the current Layton Art Collection trustees and their collaboration with the Milwaukee Art Museum. The six main sections of the book are followed by a gallery of artworks acquired and displayed during that period. The history is informed as much by a visual record of historic photographs and important artworks as it is by written sources. The book has over 700 illustrations.
Layton’s Legacy provides the best insight into Frederick Layton’s life and the Layton Art Collection that have been published to date. It includes the founding of the Layton Collection, its significant purchases, major exhibitions, public personalities, exciting events, and the sense of possibility for Milwaukee and its citizens—that all contributed to the development of the Layton Art Gallery, and that have guided its successor organization, the Layton Art Collection, over more than 125 years.
The book includes object entries from more than twenty scholars of American and European painting, furniture, and decorative art including works by artists Eastman Johnson, Winslow Homer, Frederick Church, Thomas Cole, Bastien Lepage, William Bourguereau, James Tissot, Frederic Leighton, and Alma Tadema, among many others. Eminent scholars of nineteenth-century art, Dianne Macleod and Giles Waterfield, contribute forewords.
Layton’s Legacy – A Historic American Art Collection 1888-2013 retails for $75. For more information on the book or to purchase it, please visit www.laytonslegacy.com. There will also be a book signing for the new book at Boswell Books on Milwaukee's eastside on Sunday, September 29 at 3 p.m.
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