Nearly Secret Stash of Art

palazzoIf you live in Baltmore, it’s no secret that the Walters Art Gallery has an amazing stash of art spread out in three buildings. To say that Henry Walters and his father William enjoyed collecting art would be a monumental understatement. William made his fortune in wholesale liquor (they still can drink in Baltimore) and bought himself a mansion on Mount Vernon Place. He started collecting art in the mid 1800s -- rare books and manuscripts and Asian art. Every spring he would have an open house so the public could see the collection. After the Civil War William moved into the railroad business and after his death in 1894, son Henry took over the business and the collecting. Through a Vatican official, he acquired over 1,700 masterpieces of European art. Henry bought three adjacent buildings on Mount Vernon Place and built a armorpalazzo-style building to house all the art. When he died in 1931, he bequeathed the building and its contents to the City of Baltimore.

A modern addition in 1974 was updated in 2001 and Hackerman House was acquired in order to display the Asian art collection. In all, there are 28,000 works that date from antiquity through the 20th century. Thanks to generous local government support, the museum has no admission fees.

Where do you start your visit? From the Charles Street entrance you pass through a sculpture court that mimics an internal courtyard of a 17th century palazzo. From there you can see arms and armor and some of the finest Italian paintings in North America. Giovanni di paintingPaolo, El Greco, Veronese, Bernini, Raphael, Tiepolo -- they are all here. The Centre Street buiding has 39 galleries of anicient, medieval and 19th century art. The Egyptian mummy and sarcophagus is impressive, but so is all the jewelry. European and American paintings and sculptures include works by Delacroix, Ingres, Daumier, Monet, Pissarro, Manet and Alfred Jacob Miller. The collection includes a large assembly of the works of animal sculptor Antoine-Louis Bary.

The Chamber of Wonders is such a great name and the gallery lives up to it. There are natural wonders and man-made curiosities displayed with paintings, sculpturesculpture and jewelry.

The adjacent Hackerman House is an 1850 mansion that houses all the Asian art, but the building itself is worth seeing for its Tiffany glass dome. It may take a few tries to find the bridge from the main building to Hackerman (the key is to cross on Level 3), but it’s worth the effort. There are 1,000 works on 3 levels, Chinese, Japanese, Southeast Asian and Korean, including porcelains, lacquers and metalwork.

Like any good secret, it’s the surprise factor that makes this stash of art a true find.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

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