An Ongoing Study of the Shelburne Museum by the Students of Saint Michaels College
Buildings Topics Collections

The Electra Havemeyer Webb Memorial Building   

The Influences Behind the Shelburne Museum


The Electra Havmeyer Webb Memorial Building

Electra Havemeyer Webb

Louisine Elder Havemeyer

Mary Cassatt

Harry Havmeyer

J. Watson Webb



Henry Osborne Havemeyer (1847-1907) inherited a thriving sugar refinery business in New York City from his father. Henry grew up accustomed to a wealthy lifestyle as his father began the sugar refining business in 1807 (The Creation of the Havemeyer Collection.) When he inherited the business, Henry continued his lush lifestyle and began collecting artwork in 1876.

Harry Havemeyer's first purchase was made in Philadelphia where he bought carved ivory figures, Japanese lacquered boxes, silk, brocades, and sword guards as documented in The Proud Possessors. His purchases were impulsive and numerous. Despite friends' and families' query on Harry's collection choices, he continued to build a collection of Japanese pottery, boxes, screens, and paintings.  Henry attended New York City auctions and won the bids on the most prized pieces. Henry's impulsive tendencies came from his belief that his art purchases would all appreciate in value. Business man Henry Havemeyer met important people in the art world, all printed in the text The Proud Possessors, including Paul Durand-Ruel. Durand-Ruel was a native Parisian professional art dealer who owned galleries in Europe and the U.S. This relationship allowed Harry to build his collection with access to the most internationally demanded artists and pieces, giving Harry fame beyond his fortune.

- Photo: The Havemeyers: Impressionism Comes to America

Henry Havemeyer divorced his first wife Mary Louise Elder and  married her niece Louisine Elder Havemeyer in 1883, a fact from The Havemeyers: Impressionism Comes to America. Both had developed distinct tastes for art collecting that did not converge but rather complemented each other. Louisine focused on collecting modern works of the time composed by European painters. She was most influenced by her close friend (Sixteen to Sixty: Memoirs of a collector), collecting advisor, and artist Mary Cassatt. Henry acquired his first European paintings in 1888, two Rembrandt portraits (The Havemeyers: Impressionism Comes to America) one of which sits in the living room of the E.H.W. Memorial building.

Henry's fortune allowed the couple to build several properties, providing more space to house the growing collection. The Havemeyers began their family in 1884 (The Proud Possessors) with the birth of daughter Adaline. Two years later son Horace was born in 1886 and finally Electra Havemeyer Webb was born in 1888.

As the Havemeyer children grew up, they traveled with their parents all over the world on vacations and art purchasing excursions (Notes By Electra Havemeyer...) The children became well informed about the nature of art dealing, yet Electra was the only Havemeyer child to follow her parents' collecting habits, exemplified in her creation of the Shelburne Museum. Electra's collection of Americana artifacts reflects her close relationship with father Harry and childhood family vacations worldwide.

Harry died of a ruptured pancreas in 1907 devastating the family. He told a then 18 year-old Electra "Boss, take care of your mother" (The Proud Possessors) and though Electra favored her father she devoted herself  to mother Louisine as requested. Electra wrote in Notes By Electra Havemeyer...: "Father died when I was only 18 years old and mother continued collecting until she died seventeen years later. During those years I spent a great deal of time with her. She told of the pleasure she and father had collecting and how they loved living with all their objects."

Home Shelburne Museum Saint Michael's College Contact Us