Collecting practice and institutional legacy of Lillie P. Bliss (1864-1931)
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date21/03/2023
Walsh, Irene M.
The aim of this thesis is to advance the study of the history of collecting through the reassessment of an underestimated exemplar in the fields of culture and philanthropy. The examination of Bliss's motivation, methods, and impact undertaken here endeavours to correct two oversights: that Bliss has not been given due recognition as a major collector of modern art and that Bliss has not been adequately credited as a force in the history of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). The subject’s collecting career is reconstructed, and MoMA’s foundational narrative revisited, through archival material related to the art and the artists that Bliss collected and patronised; the art market in which she operated; and the evolution of the New York museum ecosystem – all contextualised in the social, political and economic upheaval that defined the first half of the twentieth century. The chronological structure of the thesis tracks the objects composing the Bliss collection through time – from acquisition to institutionalisation to deaccessioning – discovering fluctuations in their value, both real and perceived. Bliss is shown to be a market actor of consequence, whose dealer relationships evolved from mentor-mentee to the purely transactional, reflecting her own transformation from amateur to professional. Bliss – and later the Bliss collection – are shown to have played an inestimable role in building, stabilising and shaping MoMA as a significant institution and an authoritative voice in its first quarter century. Along with these conclusions, the thesis contributes to development of a unified methodology by blending the traditional anecdotal case study approach to collectors, with concepts drawn from the study of museums and canon formation, and the more data driven approach to the study of markets.