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Walter Conrad Arensberg

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Title: Walter Conrad Arensberg  
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Subject: Baconian theory of Shakespeare authorship, New York Dada, Fountain (Duchamp), William Carlos Williams, Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2
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Walter Conrad Arensberg

Walter Conrad Arensberg (April 4, 1878 – January 29, 1954) was an American art collector, critic and poet. His father was part owner and president of a crucible steel company. He majored in English and philosophy at Harvard University. With his wife Louise (born as Mary Louise Stevens, 1879–1953), he collected art and supported artistic endeavors.[1]

Early life and career

Walter Arensberg was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the oldest child of Conrad Christian Arensberg and his second wife, Flora Belle Covert. Walter's father was President and partial owner of a successful Pittsburgh crucible company. Between 1896 and 1900, Walter attended Harvard University. Following graduation, he travelled to Europe, where he spent at least two years. In 1903, he returned to Harvard, as a graduate student. He did not complete his degree, but rather moved to New York City to work as a cub reporter from 1904-1906.

Arensberg's work The cryptography of Shakespeare (1922) claims to find acrostics and anagrams in the published works of Shakespeare which reveal the name of Bacon. In The secret grave of Francis Bacon and his mother in the Lichfield chapter house (1923) and The Shakespearean mystery (1928) he used a "key cipher" to find further messages connected with the Rosicrucians. Analysis by William Friedman and Elizebeth Friedman[2] shows that none of the methods has cryptographic validity.

Several volumes of his Symbolist-influenced verse were also published, including 1914's Poems and 1916's Idols. His poem Voyage a l'Infini was anthologized by Edmund Clarence Stedman.

Art collector

Between 1913 and 1950 the couple collected the works of Modern artists such as Jean Metzinger,[3] Marcel Duchamp,[1] Charles Sheeler, Walter Pach, Beatrice Wood,[1] and Elmer Ernest Southard, as well as Pre-Columbian art; they were assisted by dealer Earl L. Stendahl. The Arensbergs became particularly close with Duchamp, who lived in their apartment during the summer of 1915 while they vacationed at their summer home in Pomfret, Connecticut. They would become the artist's lifelong patrons and form the largest, most significant collection of his work.[4] When Duchamp's idea to despatch his urinal to the first show of the Society of Independent Artists was rejected, both he and Arensberg felt obliged to resign from the society.[5]

California years

In 1921, for health and financial reasons and upon Louise's insistence, the couple relocated to [4]

Francis Bacon Foundation

Intrigued with writer Francis Bacon, particularly the aspects of alchemy, cryptography, Rosicrucianism, and, inevitably, the Shakespeare-Bacon debate, the Arensbergs researched his work. In 1937 they established the Francis Bacon Foundation in Los Angeles intending to promote "research in history, philosophy, science, literature, and art, with special reference to the life and works of Francis Bacon" and in 1954 endowed it with funds and their collection of Baconiana. The Foundation's library was housed in its own small brick building at the Claremont Colleges beginning in 1960. In the intervening years, the collection grew from its original 3,500 volumes to over 16,000 volumes. With the failing health of the collection's longtime librarian and curator, the Foundation decided to transfer it to the Huntington Library in San Marino. The collection is now known as the Francis Bacon Foundation Arensberg Collection.


In the 1940s the Arensbergs began to look for a permanent home for their collection. In 1941, a group around actors Vincent Price, Edward G. Robinson, Fanny Brice, and Sam Jaffe tried to get the collection to stay on the West Coast, for the Modern Institute of Art in Beverly Hills.[7] In 1944, the Arensbergs signed a deed of gift with the University of California, Los Angeles, which included the stipulation that the University build an appropriate museum to house the collection in a specified time frame; their friend and fellow collector Galka Scheyer subsequently signed a similar agreement. By the fall of 1947 it was obvious that this condition would not be met and the contract was nullified. In 1939, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's board turned down a gift of avant-garde works from the collection.[8]

The Arensbergs then began negotiations with numerous other institutions, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Denver Art Museum, Harvard University, the Honolulu Academy of Arts, the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes (Mexico, D.F.), the National Gallery, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Art, Stanford University, the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Minnesota. The Arensbergs eventually dropped their demand that the recipient of the collection also provide for the continuance of the Francis Bacon Foundation. After protracted discussions and many visits from Director Fiske Kimball and his wife Marie, the Arensbergs presented their collection of over 1000 objects, including correspondence, ephemera, clippings, writings, personal and art collection records, and photographs documenting the couple's art collecting activities as well as their friendship with many important artists, writers and scholars, to the Philadelphia Museum of Art on December 27, 1950.[4]

In 1949, Daniel Catton Rich and Art Institute of Chicago in 1949.[9] For the exhibition Making Mischief: Dada Invades New York in 1996, the Whitney Museum of American Art partially recreated the interior of the Manhatttan apartment of the Arensbergs.[10]

External links

  • Philadelphia Museum of Art
    • "Historical note" about the Arensbergs and their collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art website
  • Francis Bacon Foundation


  1. ^ a b c "Walter and Louise Arensberg papers, 1912-1982, (bulk 1917-1982)". Research collections. Archives of American Art. 2011. Retrieved 17 Jun 2011. 
  2. ^ William and Elizebeth Friedman, The Shakespearean ciphers examined, Cambridge University Press, 1957. Chapter X.
  3. ^ (Woman with a Teaspoon), 1911Tea TimePhiladelphia Museum of Art, Jean Metzinger,
  4. ^ a b c Arensberg Archives: Historical Note Philadelphia Museum of Art.
  5. ^ Souren Melikian (November 20, 1999), Outraging the Bourgeoisie, Part II New York Times.
  6. ^ (1942)Birthday Dorothea Tanning, Philadelphia Museum of Art.
  7. ^ Oral history interview with Vincent Price, 1992 Aug. 6-14 Archives of American Art Oral History Program.
  8. ^ D.J. Waldie (September 18, 2011), L.A.'s postwar art scene: Hot rods and hedonism Los Angeles Times.
  9. ^ Roberta Smith (January 12, 1994), Katherine Kuh, Art Connoisseur And Writer, 89 New York Times.
  10. ^ Stephen Birmingham (September 8, 1996), L.A.'s postwar art scene: Hot rods and hedonism Los Angeles Times.
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