Portrait of Frederick Layton, 1893
Oil on canvas
78 1/4 × 48 1/4 in. (198.76 × 122.56 cm)
Layton Art Collection, Inc., Gift of Marshall and Ilsley Bank L1888.30
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The Layton Art Gallery, 1888-1919
After the Civil War, America witnessed a golden age of art patronage and museum formation that continued into the 1930s. American social and political leaders considered great art to be a civilizing force in a world being transformed by immigration and industrialization. Museums were seen as places for contemplation, inspiration, and education. Art confirmed social and cultural status, and with the opening of the Layton Art Gallery in 1888, Milwaukee joined the ranks of major art centers in the United States.
Frederick Layton (1827–1919) built his fortune developing national and international markets for Milwaukee’s meatpacking industry. Born and raised in England, Layton immigrated to Milwaukee as a young man. He returned often to Europe, and his exposure to its art and culture inspired him to give Milwaukee an art gallery with one of the first major collections of fine art in the Midwest—a gift that amounted to nearly half of Layton’s net worth. Layton explained that his gallery would “be of benefit to our working people, as well as the more wealthy, since all may come and find pleasure and recreation in paying a visit to the gallery.”The Layton Art Gallery, among the first single-patron art galleries in the United States, was a resounding success and became a defining Milwaukee landmark of its generation. As with other great collections being formed in America at this time, Layton’s Collection highlighted the tastes of the cosmopolitan elite and was comprised mostly of contemporary European art, with a smattering of pictures by acclaimed American artists.