The Layton Collection
MAM remembers Milwaukeeâs first art museum
The exhibition is hung in salon style, as
in their original home, and contains a selection of some 55 European and American
paintings by major and minor painters of the late 19th century. American
paintings include Eastman Johnsonâs signature work The Old Stage Coach (1871), Winslow Homerâs Hark the Lark (1882) and Asher Durandâs In the Catskills (1857). English works represented in the
exhibition include Frederic Leightonâs At
the Fountain (1892-92)
and Edward William Cookeâs The Pilot Boat (1839).
Among the notable paintings by French artists are Rosa Bonheurâs enigmatic Two Goats (ca. 1870), William-Adolphe Boguereauâs Homer and His Guide 1874, a Landscape (ca. 1870) by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot and museum visitorsâ favorite, Jules Bastien Lepagesâs âWood Gathererâ (1882). Completing the slate are a geographically diverse lot of paintings by Austrian, Belgian, German, Hungarian, Italian, Norwegian, Polish, Scottish and Swiss artists, plus two sculptures: Gaetano Tretanoveâs The Last of the Spartans (ca. 1892) and a bust of Layton by Salvatore Florenti Albano (1889).
The collection represents traditional aesthetic values, as none of the paintings reflect the âavant-gardeâ Impressionists who were emerging during the time the collection was formed. Only one of the artists on display is a woman artist, again reflecting the state of art collecting at the time when the collection was formed.
Who was Frederick Layton? Layton (1827-1919) was the British-born Milwaukee meatpacking magnate who founded the Layton Art Gallery. The gallery opened in 1888 on the corner of Mason and Jefferson near Cathedral Square. This striking Greek Revival building, designed by London architects W.J. and G. A. Audsley, housed the Layton collection. It represented the beginnings of serious art collecting in Milwaukee.
The Layton Gallery served as a principal cultural landmark in the midst of Milwaukeeâs then-thriving industrial complex of breweries, brickyards, meatpacking houses, tanneries and shipyards. Perhaps the greatest architectural sin committed by mid-20th century developers in Milwaukee was the demolition of the Layton Gallery in 1958. The land where the museum stood became a parking lot.
Thankfully, the collection assembled by Layton has fared better as its stewardship has evolved into safer hands through a partnership with the Milwaukee Art Museum. While not all the paintings in the collection would qualify as masterworks, it is worth noting that a selection of the works reinstalled in Gallery 10 turns out to be among the signature pieces of the museumâs entire collection.