Benjamin Altman (1840–1913) was born and died in New York City. He was the son of Bavarian Jews who emigrated to America in 1835 and opened a small store on Attorney Street in New York City.
In 1865, Altman founded B. Altman & Co., opening a store on Third Avenue and 10th Street in NYC. In 1906, he moved the business to Fifth Avenue and 34th Street. Benjamin Altman died without heirs. Shortly before the death, he founded the Altman Foundation. Until 1985, it owned B. Altman & Co., which later closed the last store in 1990.
There is a portrait of Altman in the New York State Museum in Albany; it was painted by the Swiss-born American artist Adolfo Müller-Ury (1862–1947) and donated to the New York Chamber of Commerce by Michael Friedsam. Müller-Ury knew Altman personally as a client of art dealer Henry Duveen. He was compelled to paint from a photograph after Altman's death. He first completed a 50 x 40 inches portrait of Altman seated in his gallery with a Rembrandt behind him and a Chinese vase on a table beside him, but the Metropolitan Museum of Art, for whom this had been painted, chose a far weaker portrait of Altman by Ellen Emmet Rand also made from a photograph, and Müller-Ury's larger work went to the Foundation offices; it has since disappeared.