This essay focuses on the ways in which travel broadened and deepened later nineteenth-century American collectors’ interests in cultures different from their own. Like many Gilded Age traveler-collectors, the figures profiled here—Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840–1924), Charles Lang Freer (1854–1919), Louisine Havemeyer (1855–1929), Henry (1849–1919) and Helen Clay Frick (1888–1984), and Phoebe Hearst (1842–1919)—were affluent and curious. Quotations from diaries, letters, and memoirs underscore the role travel played in educating them. Gardner’s constant travels to Italy solidified the direction her collecting would take, while Freer’s unwavering interest in the arts of many cultures of Asia prompted repeated visits to that continent. Havemeyer’s recollections of Spain spurred her desire to collect the art of El Greco (1541–1614) well before other Americans developed an appreciation of that artist, and letters and travel diaries illuminate Phoebe Hearst’s and Helen Clay Frick’s self-education through museum visits, in Hearst’s case affecting as well the later collecting obsessions of her son, William Randolph Hearst (1863–1951). While these collectors were often drawn to objects because they saw them as exotic, museums today seek to understand the objects they acquired within the context of their creators’ cultures.

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