BALTIMORE — The Walters Art Museum has received a $2.5 million gift from Baltimore art collectors Deborah and Philip English to endow and hire a new curator to specialize in the areas of decorative arts, design, and material culture. In addition, the Englishes committed to donating more than 500 objects in their collection of majolica to the museum.
The Walters will conduct a national search for this position, known as the Deborah and Philip English Curator of Decorative Arts, Design, and Material Culture.
“This new position funded by the Englishes gives us the ability to further the study of ceramics like majolica and other examples of material culture, which expands the types of stories we are able to tell and restores this art to its rightful place in history,” said Julia Marciari-Alexander, Andrea B. and John H. Laporte Director. “We are simply thrilled to have this opportunity to integrate the visionary collection the Englishes have created into the Walters, which stewards one of the most significant collections of ceramics from across the globe and across time in the United States.”
The English majolica collection is one of the largest, most comprehensive, and most significant collections of English and Continental-European majolica given to any U.S. institution. Majolica, a type of molded earthenware known for its brightly colored lead-based glazes, was widely used throughout Victorian society in the form of tableware, decorative objects, and garden ornaments. After debuting at London’s Great Exhibition of 1851, majolica quickly became ubiquitous in England and America, with works appearing in museum displays, royal palaces, and in the homes of average citizens. The English majolica collection contains both monumental pieces created specifically for exhibitions as well as daily ware.
“Majolica was one of the most significant ceramics introduced in England in the 19th century,” said Deborah English. “It introduced Rococo, Renaissance, and Gothic design motifs into middle-class homes. From a material culture standpoint, majolica’s wide popularity and broad acceptance in society made it reflective of the changes in Victorian society brought on by the industrial revolution. Majolica spoke to the politics, culture, and even satire of the era.”
The Englishes have already made significant gifts to the museum from their collection of majolica and will continue to do so during their lifetimes, with the remainder of the collection to be given as a testamentary gift to the museum.
“We chose the Walters Art Museum to receive this collection because of the long-established relationship between the institution and the English family, and also because of the museum’s superior approach to scholarship and conservation,” said Philip English. “Along with the collection, we wanted to present the museum with a significant academic resource for the study of majolica, and we recognized the importance of underwriting a curatorship to ensure the continued study of this important and captivating ceramic.”
Majolica is the focus of Majolica Mania, an exhibition of more than 350 works that highlights the beauty and inventiveness of the ceramic. Taking over the entirety of 1 West Mount Vernon Place, also known as Hackerman House, Majolica Mania features immersive installations on each floor, including a recreation of a Victorian parlor. The exhibition is on view from February 27 to August 7, 2022.
ABOUT THE WALTERS ART MUSEUM
The Walters Art Museum is a cultural hub in the heart of Baltimore, located in the city’s Mount Vernon neighborhood. The museum’s collection spans more than seven millennia, from 5000 BCE to the 21st century, and encompasses 36,000 objects from around the world. Walking through the museum’s historic buildings, visitors encounter a stunning panorama of thousands of years of art, from romantic 19th-century images of French gardens to mesmerizing Ethiopian icons, richly illuminated Qur’ans and Gospel books, ancient Roman sarcophagi, and serene images of the Buddha. Since its founding, the Walters’ mission has been to bring art and people together to create a place where people of every background can be touched by art. As part of this commitment, admission to the museum and special exhibitions is always free.
Admission to the museum is free. The Walters Art Museum is located at 600 N. Charles St., north of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. For general museum information, visit thewalters.org.