Denman Waldo Ross (1853-1935)

Denman Waldo Ross (1853-1935)

As an artist, collector, patron, and teacher, Denman Waldo Ross impacted nearly every aspect of the Boston art world in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, particularly the collections of Harvard’s Fogg Art Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Upon his death in 1935, the Fogg Art Museum hosted a memorial show in his honor, and an article in The American Magazine of Art noted that his “water colors showed, in swift sketches done on his travels, the vividness of his impressions; the canvases revealed the extent of his research into the problems of painting.”[1

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Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, Ross graduated from Harvard in 1875, studied at the Académie Julian in Paris, and then returned to Harvard where he completed his doctorate in 1880. His interest in art and design grew in his late thirties, and he became a trustee of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston in 1895. Ross was also an avid teacher, appointed as special lecturer on design at Harvard’s Architectural School in 1899 and chairman of the advisory committee on drawing in Boston public schools in 1913. He published several books on design, drawing, painting, and color theory, and many of his students went on to successful careers in the arts, including Hyman Bloom, Jack Levine, and Marie Danforth Page. His exploration of color theory drew the attention of fellow Cambridge artist Charles Hopkinson, who wrote of his time studying under Ross: “He will be remembered as long as those to whom he gave his friendship are alive, and as long as men and women who love beauty enjoy what he gathered for them.”[2]

An astute collector during his travels, Ross eventually donated more than 11,000 objects to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, among them two works by Claude Monet and one by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, while his outstanding collection of Peruvian textiles was given to Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. Ross was a member of the Copley Society, the Boston Society of Architects, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the India Society in London, and he was a founding member of the Boston Society of Arts and Crafts. Today, a large repository of his works can be found in the collection of the Fogg Art Museum, with additional works in the collections of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College.


[1] “Denman Ross Memorial Show.” The American Magazine of Art, vol. 28, no. 12, 1935, p. 758.

[2] Hopkinson, “Denman Waldo Ross (1853-1935).” p. 546.

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