Catharine Lorillard Wolfe

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Catharine Lorillard Wolfe (1876) by Alexandre Cabanel
The Storm by Pierre Auguste Cot was commissioned by Catharine Lorillard Wolfe under the guidance of her cousin John Wolfe, one of Cot's principal patrons.

Catharine Lorillard Wolfe (8 March 1828 – 4 April 1887) was an American philanthropist and art collector. Though she gave large amounts of money to institutions such as Grace Episcopal Church and Union College, her most significant gifts were two bequests to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. She left her large collection of popular contemporary paintings to the museum, together with $200,000.


Wolfe was the daughter John David Wolfe, a real estate developer, and Dorothea Lorillard, a partial inheritor of the Lorillard fortune. Wolfe led a private and sheltered life. After the death of her parents, she continued their philanthropic activities. She supported the Newsboys' Lodging House and Industrial School (an outgrowth of Charles Loring Brace's movement to help care for New York's homeless children; she financed archaeological missions, including one that unearthed Nippur; she was also involved with the American Museum of Natural History, which her father had helped to found.

The Wolfe Fund[edit]

The bequest of her art collection was her most significant philanthropic endeavor. Her collection gave the Metropolitan its first significant representation of the kinds of paintings that appealed to the general public. Star attractions in her collection included Ludwig Knaus's Holy Family and Jules Breton's Procession of Pardon in Brittany. The opening of the Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Wing displaying these popular paintings, coupled with the Museum's simultaneous acquisition by gift of Rosa Bonheur's enormously popular painting The Horse Fair (1853–55), brought to the Metropolitan, for the first time, large numbers of people from beyond the elite circles that traditionally constituted its audiences. The large crowds that Wolfe's collection attracted encouraged other American museums to similarly reach out to members of America's emerging urban middle classes.

Wolfe's gift of $200,000 was the first permanent endowment fund for buying art ever given to a major American museum. It helped launch the competitive cycle of giving that transformed museums in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago, from the private pursuits of rich art lovers to professional institutions dedicated to educating large audiences and promoting modern art. Among the masterpieces of world art that the Metropolitan has since acquired using the Wolfe Fund are Pierre-Auguste Renoir's Madame Charpentier and her Children, Jacques-Louis David's Death of Socrates, and Winslow Homer's The Gulf Stream.


  • (1887). "Charity Losing a Helper." The New York Times. April 5.
  • (1880). "Newsboys in High Feather: Possession Taken of the New Home Provided By Mrs. Wolfe." July 23.
  • (1887). "The Wolfe Collection: Public Exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art." The New York Times. November 3.
  • (1887). "The Wolfe Millions: the Ways in Which They Will Be Distributed." The New York Times. April 10.

An obituary of Wolfe appeared in The New York Times on 5 April 1887. Details of her life can be found in her entry in American National Biography.

External links[edit]