Bareiss (pronounced BAH-rice) was born in Tübingen, Germany, in 1919. A lifelong collector, he bought his first Picasso etching in Zurich at age 13. He came to the United States in 1937 and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business science from Yale University in 1940. The family’s textile manufacturing business was sold in 1984.
He began collecting African art in 1948, when he bid on behalf of the Museum of Modern Art for several pieces auctioned in Stuttgart, Germany. He and his wife Molly Stimson Bareiss compiled over 9,000 pieces for the Walter and Molly Bareiss Collection and created the traveling exhibition Kilengi: African Art from the Bareiss Family Collection. 
Over the years, he assembled a collection of about 1,800 limited-edition artist’s books, which he donated to the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio.  His collection of classical Greek ceramics was bought by the J. Paul Getty Museum in 1984 and includes a black figure vase whose painter was nicknamed "the Bareiss Painter."
- Roy, Christopher D. et al. (1999). Kilengi: African Art from the Bareiss Family Collection. University of Washington Press, ISBN 978-0-295-97822-2
- Mellby, Julie (2003) Splendid Pages: The Molly and Walter Bareiss Collections of Modern Illustrated Books. Hudson Hills Press, ISBN 978-1-55595-209-9
- Cotter, Holland (April 27, 2007). Walter Bareiss, 87, Dies; Specialist in African Art. "New York Times"
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