Founder’s Vision: The Private Collection of Barbara Babcock Millhouse

Mary and Charlie Babcock Wing Gallery

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Barbara Babcock Millhouse has dedicated much of her life to untangling the mysterious ways in which art functions. Since the dedication of Reynolda House in 1967, she has guided the development of one of the great national collections of American visual art. In fact, art scholar John Wilmerding of Princeton University once described the collection at Reynolda as “the finest concentration of American art in a public collection south of Washington (D.C.).”

With a sterling inaugural collection of American paintings and a succession of major gifts to follow, Millhouse’s contributions collectively represent what may be the greatest gift of fine art in the history of North Carolina. When acquiring works for Reynolda House, she planned for perpetuity, selecting paintings she believed would come to be accepted as iconic works by future generations of Americans. Over these six decades, she has also built a significant private art collection, and Founder’s Vision assembles highlights from the late 19th and 20th centuries.

“Barbara Babcock Millhouse with Thomas Cole’s Home in the Woods, 1973.”

For her private collection, she was moved by personal inspiration and a marked adventurousness. Founder’s Vision celebrates her dedication to American art with an exhibition drawn from her private holdings. Representing most of the major movements in modern art, these are the works with which she has chosen to live.

The exhibition features important works by Romare Bearden, Alex Katz, Edward Hopper, Joseph Cornell, Georgia O’Keeffe, and John Singer Sargent among more than forty artists from the late 19th and 20th centuries. It also includes costumes and memorabilia from Millhouse’s peak period of collecting in the high-stakes art market, when New York was indisputably the center of the modern art world.

Her adventures in collecting led her to conclude, “Buy where you can afford the best and be willing to pay for it. Learn to understand and appreciate quality so you know what you are paying for and know why you are paying twice as much for this than that.”

Above, left: Photo of Barbara B. Millhouse. Courtesy of Reynolda House
Museum of American Art

Above, right: Oscar Bluemner (1867–1938) Moonshine Fantasy, 1929, oil on
panel, 22 x 14 1⁄2 in. Courtesy of Barbara B. Millhouse