Jeptha Homer Wade II as Collector
He [Jeptha Homer Wade II] was a great man, only one of the remarkable men who built the Cleveland Museum to high estate, but he was perhaps the greatest. His contribution to Cleveland’s cultural life can never be measured, and his contributions go on continually through the purchases from his fund.–William Milliken, 2nd Director of the Cleveland Museum of Art
The Cleveland Museum of Art sits on land donated by Jeptha Homer Wade II, called Homer, by friends and colleagues. I’ve got a notebook here in the office with a list of all the works given to that institution by him, his descendants, and gifts purchased with monies from the fund that bears his name. The document is 286 pages in length, 25 objects on a page +/-, so around 7000 objects or close to 14% of the entire collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art. But what do we actually know about Homer as a collector.
It is often difficult to separate Homer the Collector from Homer the Philanthropist. It’s important to remember that Homer had probably hoped to see an art museum open in Cleveland sometime in the early-mid 1890s. Nobody at the time (except perhaps the attorneys) expected it to take twenty years to resolve trust issues and get the museum built and going.
Based on notes in his journals from the 1890s, Homer was fascinated by the idea of the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert Museum).
Traveling through London in October 1889 on the way to visit the Paris Exposition Homer typical brief journal notation for October 1, 1889 reads as follows:
“Spent entire day at South Kensington Museum. Wonderful collection-embracing all departments. Especially interested in lace, embroideries, musical instruments. Paintings did not seem extensive or very valuable after seeing Nat Gallery. Adelphi Theater in the evening seeing London Day by Day. Fairly good.”
Five years later, in 1894 Homer, his wife Nellie, and their children headed off on a round-the-world tour. He bought and shipped back textiles, and small objects–wood, metal, ivory–probably with the intention of donating them to the museum.
Homer was a collector of Barbizon School artists. He seems to have particularly liked landscapes and figural paintings, particularly landscapes that included water, beach scenes, ships and forests. He was also a collector of portrait miniatures. Homer’s grandfather, the first J.H. Wade, had had an early career as a painter of portraits and miniatures. Homer’s only daughter, Helen, and her husband Edward Belden Greene continued the tradition of collecting portrait miniatures and giving them to the Cleveland Museum of Art.
Once Homer started collecting he never stopped. Just a few months before his untimely death in 1926, he was in New York City, visiting museums and galleries and buying art.