European Art Collection
The Huntington’s European art collection encompasses a broad range of styles, cultures and media, from antiquity to the twentieth century. It features one of the most significant collections of British art outside the United Kingdom, including important holdings of 18th- and 19th-century sculpture, as well as decorative arts from 15th-century silver through the 19th- and early 20th-century designs of William Morris and his followers. Famous for its collection of grand manner portraits, it is also distinguished by important examples of 19th-century landscape painting by Constable and Turner, and 17th-century portraiture by Peter Lely and Anthony van Dyck.
The European art collection also includes extensive holdings of art from outside Great Britain. It is particularly strong in Renaissance bronzes and 18th-century French decorative art and sculpture, including a major group of terracottas by Clodion and works in marble and bronze by Jean-Antoine Houdon. The collection of French paintings contains works by the most important artists of the 17th and 18th centuries, such as Claude, Watteau and Greuze.
British ArtThe collection of British portraits of the late 18th and early 19th-century is considered one of the greatest outside London. Many of the best works by the most important English painters of the period were large formal portraits; 14 of the finest examples are on display in the Thornton Portrait Gallery, including portraits by Joshua Reynolds, George Romney, and Thomas Gainsborough, whose works on view include Blue Boy (ca. 1770) and Karl Friedrich Abel (ca. 1777), as well as Reynolds’ Sarah Siddons as the Tragic Muse and Thomas Lawrence’s “Pinkie” (1794). In addition to painted portraits, the Thornton Portrait Gallery also features an important collection of British portrait busts, representing most of the important sculptors working in England during the period.
Elsewhere in the Huntington Art Gallery, other periods of British painting are represented. Seventeenth- and early 18th-century portraits, including works by Van Dyck, Lely, and Allan Ramsay, can be found in the anteroom to the Thornton Portrait Gallery. The rise of landscape painting around 1800 is represented by important works from J. M. W. Turner and John Constable, on view on the second floor. An important group of miniature portraits can be seen in two new displays: early miniatures, including a portrait of Queen Elizabeth I by Nicholas Hillard, are shown downstairs, while 18th- and 19th-century examples by artists such as Richard Cosway are on display upstairs. British drawings and watercolors are presented in changing exhibitions in a dedicated room in the upstairs west wing.
British decorative arts include an important collection of silver, comprising works from the 15th through the 19th centuries, extensive holdings of furniture, and porcelain and pottery from the great manufactories of the industrial revolution, such as Chelsea, Derby and Wedgwood.
A recent acquisition of works relating to William Morris established a new focus on the Design Reform movement from the 1840s through the early 20th century. The major renovation of the Gallery, completed in 2008, included the conversion of a stairwell into a space to display a 15-foot-high stained glass window (ca. 1898) produced by Morris and Co. after designs by Edward Burne-Jones.
French ArtThe collection of French art, mostly from the 18th century, is characteristic of the taste for grand-siècle style among American millionaires in the early 20th century.
The downstairs rooms of the Huntington Art Gallery are furnished with French furniture and decorative objects, arranged to evoke the taste and lifestyle of Henry and Arabella Huntington. A set of Beauvais tapestries after designs by François Boucher, purchased by Huntington in 1909, hangs in the large library. This room also includes two of the great Savonnerie carpets designed for Louis XIV’s redecoration of the Louvre palace in the late 17th century.
A large part of the French art collection is displayed in new galleries devoted to the Arabella D. Huntington Memorial Art Collection, in the upstairs east wing. This collection begins with Jean-Antoine Houdon’s original life-size bronze Diana the Huntress, first publicly exhibited in 1782. The collection was assembled by Huntington in his wife’s memory. Other highlights include five Beauvais tapestries from the Italian Village Scenes, a wonderful Houdon marble bust of Mme de Vermenoux and a substantial group of Sèvres porcelain.
The Adele S. Browning Memorial Collection displayed alongside includes an important group of paintings by leading artists of the ancien régime, such as Antoine Watteau, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, and Jean-Baptiste Greuze.
Nineteenth-century French art is represented by a group of paintings by artists associated with the Barbizon school. These were purchased by Henry Huntington before his marriage, and before he began to develop a new collecting focus on 18th-century art. These paintings are displayed with a group of 19th-century French sculptures in the upstairs northwest hallway which includes a major bronze by Alexandre Charpentier.
Other European ArtA small group of Renaissance paintings in the upstairs east wing, also part of the Arabella D. Huntington Memorial Art Collection, has as its centerpiece an exquisite Virgin and Child (ca. 1460) by the Flemish master Rogier van der Weyden. Renaissance bronzes in this wing form a group around Nessus and Deianira, a spectacular cast of a famous work by 16th-century Italian sculptor Giambologna.
City views by Italian artists such as Antonio Canaletto and Bernardo Bellotto were collected by Englishmen as souvenirs of their “grand tours” of Europe and hang on the second floor in the southeast hallway.
As The Huntington’s European art collection continues to grow by gift and purchase, installations in the Huntington Art Gallery will be dynamic, with new works going on view throughout the year.
View Selections from the European Art Collection