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Grenville L. Winthrop


Centurion, 1905–1943

Full Name Grenville Lindall Winthrop

Born 11 February 1864 in New York (Manhattan), New York

Died 19 January 1943 in New York (Manhattan), New York

Buried Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York

Proposed by James B. Ludlow and Thomas Hastings

Elected 4 March 1905 at age forty-one

Proposer of:

Century Memorial

There often rose to Grenville Winthrop’s lips a saying which bore upon the nature of his famous art collection. “I never buy anything,” he would remark, “unless it has music in it.” By “music” he meant poetry, rhythm, beauty. He meant also character, style, technical power, all the higher elements in art. He was trained as a lawyer and practiced for some time but in his prime he retired from activity in legal circles and devoted all his energies to the collecting of paintings, drawings, Orientalia and other precious objects of an artistic character. He had become interested in the subject when a student under Charles Eliot Norton at Harvard, where he was graduated in 1886, but his fine taste was born with him and developed through years of study and appreciation. As his collection grew he built for it the spacious house in East 81st Street. There he was charmingly hospitable to visitors, especially if they were of the younger generation. When he died he left his treasures to Harvard, more than four thousand of them, making a tremendous addition to the resources of the Fogg Museum.

The Winthrop collection forms a fairly bewildering array, ranging from Egyptian and Chinese sculpture to drawings as dissimilar as those by Ingres and Aubrey Beardsley. There are some old paintings included but modern works predominate. These embrace all the schools with the French and English in leading positions. David is conspicuous and so is Ingres. The group of paintings by the latter, and his forty drawings, form an incomparably representative body of the works of the master of Montauban. In the French wing there are men as early as Philippe de Champaigne, Quentin La Tour, Chardin, Fragonard and so on, and men as late as Monet and Manet. The English section is of extraordinary value, including as it does major works by Rossetti, and, among the paintings by Burne-Jones, the masterpiece of that artist, the six panels which he dedicated to “The Days of Creation.” There is also a resplendent group of Blakes. But it is impossible even to summarize the Winthrop collection here. It is enough to say that it is unique in its variety and in the perfect examples of the artists represented. It forms a prodigious memorial to Grenville Winthrop’s passion for distinguished works of art.

That passion did not divert him from the performance of certain other duties. From 1915 to 1941 he was the zealous, efficient and generous president of the Woman’s Hospital in New York. He was, too, a charitable man, who never let one hand know what was done by the other. At Lenox, where he received the Hunnewell medal for the planting of his trees at his country home, he restored the Congregational Church and the Academy Building to their original state. As a Centurion he made countless friends in every group through his courteous, companionable ways and the play of his delightful humor. There was music in him as there was in the masterpieces he brought together.

Geoffrey Parsons
1943 Century Memorials