Old Man Stanley

As told by Robert C. Vose, Jr. (1911-1998)

One of my favorite art stories happened on the day before Christmas in 1940. Sanford Low, an artist and first director of the museum in New Britain, Connecticut, and an irreverent free spirit and completely independent soul wanted to interest the area’s wealthiest mogul in collecting art. "Old Man Stanley sitting up there in his castle on the top of the hill with all his millions," said Low, "and everybody is scared of him. He has no one to talk to. Let’s take some of your pictures for him to see."

Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902), Sea Rock
Collection of the New Britain Museum of American Art

On the way Low mentioned, "I understand that this old boy is not only a teetotaler, but he doesn’t approve of anybody else drinking. So first thing, I’ll ask him for a drink." Low introduced himself and said, "This is my friend, Vose, come all the way down from Boston, and he’s awful thirsty. Can we have a little bourbon?" The stern Mr. Stanley rocked back on his heels, but he called the butler and got some bourbon.

I set the pictures around the room and Mr. Stanley finally said, "Well, Mr. Low, thank you very much. I don’t know anything about paintings. I’m not interested in paintings, but thank you for bringing them up." Low exclaimed, "I know you don’t know anything about paintings, but I do, and these are good pictures, and you should buy them." Again, Mr. Stanley was obviously taken aback, and said, "Which ones?" Low raved about five of the paintings and to our complete astonishment, Mr. Stanley quietly wrote a check on the spot. His first foray into the art world changed Mr. Stanley’s life, and eventually the whole art life of the city, even collecting in America. Alex Stanley became one of the top three collectors of American paintings. He went on to buy 250 paintings, and even took up painting himself. His collection ultimately provided the anchor for the New Britain Museum of American Art.

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