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

The Electra Havemeyer Webb Memorial Building     

The Woman behind the Shelburne Museum


The Electra Havmeyer Webb Memorial Building

Electra Havemeyer Webb

Louisine Elder Havemeyer

Mary Cassatt

Harry Havmeyer

J. Watson Webb



Louisine Elder Havemeyer (1855-1929) was born to wealthy merchant George W. Elder and wife Mathilda Adelaide Waldron in New York (The Havemeyers: Impressionism Comes to America). Mr. Elder had assets in the sugar industry because his brother was partners with Henry O. Havemeyer. When George W. Elder died tragically at the age of forty-two, Mathilda did not remarry but instead took Louisine and her sisters to Europe. Here Louisine made important  friends and developed her collecting habits. Louisine later married Henry O. Havemeyer, advocated for the women's rights movement, and raised a family.

Louisine Havemeyer, later years

                             Photo: The Havemeyers: Impressionism Comes to America

Upon her arrival in Europe in 1874 , Louisine lived with the DelSarte family in Paris with her sister while they learned French. Louisine writes in Sixteen to Sixty: Memoirs of a collector that fellow boarder and art student Emily Sartain of Philadelphia enjoyed the girls' company and became close friends with Louisine. Emily had studied with painter Mary Cassatt, also from Philadelphia, in Parma, Italy where they became friends. Mary visited Emily at the DelSartes residence while looking for property in Paris in 1874. Mary Cassatt and Louisine Elder became great friends that day, talking at length of their travels and enthusiasm for art.

Soon after their first acquaintance, Mary Cassatt and Louisine began to meet regularly and tour Paris. The two stumbled across an art gallery where Degas' work was displayed. Mary Cassatt, an acquaintance of Degas, recognized Louisine's interest in the pastel La Repetition de Ballett,  and advised her to purchase it. Louisinr wrote in Sixteen to Sixty: Memoirs of a collector that Cassat  had convinced Louisine of Degas' talent and potential in the art world. Louisine paid her entire week's stipend to purchase the pastel -- 500 francs, or $100 U.S. at the time. This painting was sold for $410,000 in 1965 by Louisine's grandson George Frelinghuysen as documented in The Creation of the Havemeyer Collection, proving Cassatt's assessment accurate. Louisine's original purchase was pivotal in the trade of European art to Americans. It was on this day that America made the art connection to the European contemporary painters of the late 1800s. Louisine and Mary made art purchases more frequently after that first purchase. They traveled all over Europe meeting with Mary's sophisticated group of professional friends, including Manet and Degas. When Louisine moved back to America in 1880, she began her next stage as an art collector.


Louisine Waldron Elder married Henry Osborne Havemeyer in 1883 after her return to the United States. Their marriage was unwavering. They had three children, daughter Adaline, son Horace, and finally Electra. The couple established several properties in New York and Connecticut decorated by Louisine, adorned with a plethora of artwork, and Tiffany-designed interiors. Louisine and Harry continued to expand their art collections with the fortune made from Harry's sugar refinery. Harry Havemeyer's relationship to Durand-Ruel (The Havemeyers: Impressionism Comes to America), a significant art dealer from the United States based out of Philadelphia, allowed the Havemeyers to gain access to the most prized paintings and pieces available. The Havemeyers were able to outbid most competitors in order to build their extensive collection. The Havemeyer children went on to marry into other equally wealthy families.

Louisine Elder Havemeyer and Henry Osborne Havemeyer

Photo: The Havemeyers: Impressionism Comes to America


Louisine took part in the women's rights movement of the 1920s and wrote about it in Sixteen to Sixty: Memoirs of a collector. Her advanced age was not a hindrance to her ambitious efforts to gain gender equality. She advocated her beliefs to all she knew, including her grandson, telling him that "if the men of your generation will not grant us justice now, you may be sure this generation will."  Louisine continued her friendship with Mary Cassatt throughout this time though  Mary remained in Paris. Louisine did not mind frequenting Paris to visit her dear friend. The two continued on as ambitious art collectors until their last days.

Louisine (right) passing the "Liberty Torch" in the womens' rights movement

Louisine finalized her will in 1929; 113 pieces of art work and 29 pictures were appropriated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. These paintings include Self Portrait, 1878 -- Cassatt; The Destruction of Sodom,1857--Corot; Boating, 1874 -- Edouard Manet; Rehearsal on the Stage, 1872 -- Degas, and several others.  Then she established that son Horace appropriate the remaining works first allowing the three Havemeyer children to select what they wished. Louisine passed away in 1929 after several attempts at regaining health following bouts with arteriosclerosis, stroke, bronchopneumonia, and finally heart diseases that ultimately overcame her (The Havemeyers: Impressionism Comes to America.)

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