John Wilmerding

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John Wilmerding
John Wilmerding.jpg
John Currie Wilmerding Jr.

(1938-04-28) April 28, 1938 (age 80)
EducationSt. Paul's School
Alma materHarvard University
OccupationProfessor, author
Parent(s)John Currie Wilmerding Sr.
Lila Vanderbilt Webb
RelativesJames Webb II (grandfather)
Electra Havemeyer (grandmother)

John Currie Wilmerding Jr. (born April 28, 1938), is an American professor of art, collector, and curator, and is best known as a prolific author of books on American art.[1]

Early life[edit]

Wilmerding was born in Boston, Massachusetts on April 28, 1938 and is descended from prominent families in old New York City social circles.[2][3] His parents were John Currie Wilmerding Sr. (1911–1965), a vice president in the personal trust division of Bankers Trust Company,[4] and Lila Vanderbilt (née Webb) Wilmerding (1913–1961).[5] He had two siblings, James Wilmerding and Lila Wilmerding.[4] After his mother's death, his father remarried to Katharine (née Salvage) Polk (1914–2003),[6] the daughter of Samuel Agar Salvage and widow of Frank Lyon Polk Jr.[7][8]

His maternal grandparents were James Watson Webb (1884–1960)[9] and Electra Havemeyer Webb (1888–1960),[10][11] the co-founders of the Shelburne Museum, which showcases the family's "collection of collections" of early American homes and public buildings, including a general store, meeting house, log cabin, and a steamship.[12][13] His great-grandfather, Henry Osborne Havemeyer and his wife, Louisine Waldron Havemeyer, were also art collectors who bequeathed a large group of their European and Oriental artworks to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.[2]

Wilmerding was educated at St. Paul's School in New Hampshire and at Harvard University, where he received his A. B. in 1960, his masters in 1961, and his Ph.D. in 1965.[14]


After graduating from Harvard, he taught art history at Dartmouth College until 1977. From 1977 to 1983 he served as senior curator at the National Gallery of Art, in Washington, DC, and as its Deputy Director under J. Carter Brown from 1983 to 1988.[15] He served as Christopher Binyon Sarofim Professor of American Art at Princeton.[16]

In 2016, the Walton Family Foundation and Alice Walton granted $10 million to the National Gallery of Art to establish the John Wilmerding Fund for Education in honor of Wilmerding's contribution to the Gallery and art history.[17]

Art collection[edit]

Wilmerding began collecting art while still a student at Harvard, purchasing the 1857 painting Stage Rocks and Western Shore of Gloucester Outer Harbor by Fitz Hugh Lane during his senior year for $3,500.[2] His second purchase was the 1850 painting Mississippi Boatman by George Caleb Bingham "which shows a pipe-smoking boatman sitting on top of a crate," followed by "The Newbury Marshes" by Martin Johnson Heade, circa 1890, which were all donated by Wilmerding to the National Gallery of Art.[2] By 2004, he built a collection of 51 paintings and drawings by acknowledged masters.[18]

At the May 2004 opening of the National Gallery of Art's exhibit "American Masters From Bingham to Eakins: The John Wilmerding Collection," Wilmerding announced that his entire collection would remain at the Gallery in perpetuity,[2] including works by such artists as Martin Johnson Heade, Fitz Henry Lane, John F. Peto, Joseph Decker, Winslow Homer, Thomas Eakins, Frederic Edwin Church, George Caleb Bingham, and John F. Kensett, and featuring certain of his favorite works by artists who visited and painted Maine's Mount Desert Island in Acadia National Park, where he has summered for many years.[18][19] His contribution broadened the Gallery's holdings by adding many examples of types of works that the Gallery had not yet managed to acquire.[1][20]



  • Robert Salmon, Painter of Ship & Shore (Peabody Museum of Salem, 1971)
  • Winslow Homer (Praeger Publishers, 1972)
  • Important information inside: The Art of John F. Peto and the Idea of Still-Life Painting in Nineteenth-Century America (National Gallery of Art, 1983)
  • American Art (Hist of Art) (Puffin, 1976)
  • American Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art (Gramercy, 1980)
  • American Marine Painting (Harry N. Abrams, 1987)
  • Andrew Wyeth: The Helga Pictures (Harry N. Abrams, 1987)
  • Paintings by Fitz Hugh Lane (Harry N. Abrams, 1988)
  • Frank W. Benson: The Impressionist Years (Spanierman Gallery, 1988)
  • American Views: Essays on American Art (Princeton University Press, 1993)
  • The Artist's Mount Desert: American Painters on the Maine Coast (Princeton University Press, 1994)
  • Compass and Clock: Defining Moments in American Culture (Harry N. Abrams, 1999)
  • Signs of the Artist: Signatures and Self-Expression in American Painting (Yale University Press, 2003)
  • Robert Indiana: The Artist and His Work 1955-2005 (Rizzoli, 2006)
  • Tom Wesselmann: His Voice and Vision (Rizzoli, 2008)
  • The Pop Object: The Still Life Tradition in Pop Art (Rizzoli, 2013)


  1. ^ a b "American Masters from Bingham to Eakins: The John Wilmerding Collection". National Gallery of Art. United States Government. Archived from the original on 7 November 2010. Retrieved 17 January 2011.
  2. ^ a b c d e Vogel, Carol (7 May 2004). "Inside Art | National Gallery Enriched by Gift". The New York Times. Retrieved 6 March 2018.
  3. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-05-11. Retrieved 2015-04-26.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  4. ^ a b "John C. Wilmerding, 54, Dead; Bankers Trust Vice President". The New York Times. 11 August 1965. Retrieved 16 January 2018.
  5. ^ "Deaths. Wilmerding". The New York Times. 13 February 1961. Retrieved 16 January 2018.
  6. ^ "Paid Notice: Deaths WILMERDING, KATHARINE S." The New York Times. January 26, 2003. Retrieved 6 March 2018.
  7. ^ "MISS SALVAGE WED TO FRANK POLK JR.: St. John's of Lattingtown Scene of Brilliant Rites — Bishop Du Moulin Officiates". The New York Times. June 27, 1934. Retrieved 6 August 2016.
  8. ^ "John C. Wilmerding Marries Mrs. Polk". The New York Times. April 29, 1962. Retrieved 8 August 2016.
  9. ^ "J. Watson Webb, Sportsman, Dies. Ex-Polo Star Named in '34 to All-Time U. S. Team. Insurance Executive Here". The New York Times. March 5, 1960. Retrieved 2011-04-07. Chairman of Webb Lynch, Inc., general insurance brokers at 99 John.....
  10. ^ "Mrs. J. Watson Webb, 72, Dead; Co-Founder of Vermont Museum; Started Shelburne Institution With Husband in 1947. Aided Red Cross in 2 Wars". The New York Times. November 20, 1960. Retrieved 2010-10-09. Mrs. Electra Havemeyer Webb of 740 Park Avenue, New York, and Shelburne, widow of J. Watson Webb, an insurance executive and international polo player, died today in Mary Fletcher Hospital.
  11. ^ Wilmerding, John (Currie) Entry, Dictionary of Art Historians. Retrieved 27 Mar 2010.
  12. ^ "Museum's Fortunes Rise at Auction". New York Times. November 13, 1996. Retrieved 2010-10-09.
  13. ^ Foderaro, Lisa W. (28 September 2007). "Gifts From the Gilded Age of Vermont". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 January 2018.
  14. ^ "John Wilmerding | Dean of the Faculty". Princeton University. Retrieved 6 March 2018.
  15. ^ McGill, Douglas C. (22 February 1988). "Princeton and the Met Joining on American Art". The New York Times. Retrieved 6 March 2018.
  16. ^ "John Wilmerding's Profile". Dictionary of Art Retrieved 17 January 2011.
  17. ^ "$10 Million Grant Received by National Gallery of Art from the Walton Family Foundation to Establish John Wilmerding Fund for Education in American Art". National Gallery of Art. April 22, 2016. Retrieved 6 March 2018.
  18. ^ a b Genocchio, Benjamin (11 July 2004). "Small, But Beautiful". The New York Times. Retrieved 6 March 2018.
  19. ^ "John Wilmerding, Giving His Awe for American Art". Washington Post. May 9, 2004. Retrieved 6 March 2018.
  20. ^ Kramer, Hilton (13 September 2004). "Some Born to Collect, And John Wilmerding Apparently Was One". The Observer. Retrieved 6 March 2018.

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