How a 19th Century Blog Led to a Museum

In 1881 James Edmund Scripps, founder of the Detroit Evening News (later the Detroit News) and father of Ellen Scripps Booth took a five-month trip to Europe with his wife Harriet Messenger Scripps and daughter Grace. As they traveled, Scripps wrote about his experiences and sent the blog-like entries back to his newspaper to publish. Detroit readers loved it.

James Edmund Scripps, ca 1870. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Because the response to his entries was so positive, Scripps compiled them into a book, Five Months Abroad: Or, The Observations and Experiences of an Editor in Europe, published in 1882. Scripps visited Italy, France, Germany, England, and the Netherlands exploring museums and churches. He wrote about art and culture and also sketched the details of many churches and cathedrals.

James Edmund Scripps bookplate from Five Months Abroad, ca 1882. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

William H. Brearley, the advertising manager for the Detroit Evening News, was so impressed with the response from Detroit residents about Scripps’ travel entries, that he decided to organize an art exhibit. Brearley gathered paintings, sculptures, etchings, and engravings (in all, 4,100 items) from collectors in Detroit, Boston, and Cleveland, and even a painting, “The Betrothal of St. Catherine,” from Pope Leo XIII.

 

 

Brearley’s “Art Loan Exhibition of 1883” was held in a temporary hall on Larned Street. The exhibition ran for 10 weeks and attracted more than 134,000 visitors at 25 cents each, covering the costs of the promoters and making a profit. With this success and a generous offer from Senator Thomas Palmer, Brearley and his associates undertook the task of raising money for a permanent museum of art.  A group of 40 Detroit citizens each gave $1,000, Sen. Palmer provided $12,000, and soon the group had raised $100,000.

In 1884, Brearley announced a $50,000 gift from James Edmund Scripps, and on April 16, 1885, the Detroit Museum of Art (later the Detroit Institute of Arts) was incorporated. The museum opened in 1888, and in 1889 Scripps bought and donated 70 European paintings. At a cost of $75,000 (roughly $2.1 million dollars today), this gift was among the first major accessions of European Old Master paintings for any American museum.

Gina Tecos, Archivist

Additional Sources:

Burton, Clarence, William Stocking and Gordon K. Miller. The City of Detroit, Michigan 1701-1922. S.J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1922.

Detroit Museum of Art Hand Book of Paintings, Compiled by James E. Scripps. John F. Eby and Co.,1895.

 

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