by Shannon Vittoria, Research Assistant

Walter Arensberg, 1928. Signed passport photograph. From Francis M. Naumann, New York Dada, 1915–23 (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994), p. 23

Walter Arensberg, 1928. Signed passport photograph. From Francis M. Naumann, New York Dada, 1915–23 (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994), p. 23

Harvard graduate Walter Arensberg (1878-1954) married Louise Stevens (1879-1953) in 1907. Although the couple was living in Cambridge, Massachusetts when the Armory Show opened in February of 1913, they made their way to New York City to see the exhibition. The Arensbergs were profoundly impacted by the experience: it sparked their interest in modern art, radicalizing their taste and inspiring a lifelong passion for collecting.

Visiting the show in the last days of its New York run – and after many notable works had already sold to eager collectors such as John Quinn and Arthur Jerome Eddy – the Arensbergs purchased only one Édouard Vuillard lithograph from the exhibition. They subsequently returned this print when the Armory Show arrived in Boston, instead acquiring lithographs by Paul Cézanne and Paul Gauguin, as well as a small landscape sketch by Jacques Villon. The latter purchase marked the beginning of their interest in Cubism, a movement they supported through major acquisitions in the wake of the exhibition. In fact, the Arensbergs would later acquire six Cubist paintings that they first saw at the Armory Show, including Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2), Albert Gleizes’s Man on a Balcony, and Francis Picabia’s Dances at the Spring.

In 1914, the couple moved to New York, where they were increasingly active in city’s avant-garde art scene. They displayed their growing art collection on the walls of their West 67th Street apartment and hosted nightly salons frequented by writers and artists, as their home became the hub of New York Dada.

Although they eventually settled in Los Angeles, the Arensbergs donated their collection of over one thousand objects to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1950. Their interests had expanded significantly since 1913 to include Byzantine and Renaissance painting, American folk art, and Pre-Columbian sculpture. Nevertheless, the Armory Show marked a pivotal moment in their collecting career, as it kindled their spirited and lasting enthusiasm for modern art.

The Armory Show at 100: Modern Art and Revolution is on view October 11, 2013 through February 23, 2013 at the New-York Historical Society.

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