From time to time during the past two decades the trustees of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts tried to get John Spaulding to join their board. They were frank about their purpose: Mr. Spaulding had an enviable collection of modern French paintings which he would, if a trustee, be inclined to leave to the museum. But Mr. Spaulding never consented to become a trustee. He died last winter and not until the will was read did the museum learn that he had given it his paintings. The Spaulding collection is one of the most perfect of its kind, worth about $2 million and including some of the best works by the great French Impressionists. It was the selection of a man who, in his possessions and preoccupations, was an old and special Boston typea kind of storybook Bostonian.
John Spaulding, the son of a wealthy sugar dealer, wound up a gentlemanly education at Harvard ('92) and then, after a few years in his father's business, proceeded to enjoy what his wealth could give him. There was the house on Beacon Street and the huge summer place shared with his brother at Pride's Crossing about 20 miles from Boston. There was the staff of 90 servants and the special greenhouse for raising orchids. There was the family yacht, Isis, on which he steamed to Boston one or two mornings a weekor, almost as easily, cruised around the Mediterranean and the Adriatic. On one trip to the Orient he and his brother bought a Japanese print, which started them off to collect eventually 6,000 Japanese prints and 452 knife handles. Then around 1920 his interest shifted to the works of Degas, Renoir, Cézanne and others.
A quiet, withdrawn gentleman, Spaulding bought only what pleased him and never thought about the investment value of a painting. He often hung paintings in the bathroom. "People spend so much time there," he said, "why not have pictures to look at?" In the summer, when he moved to Pride's Crossing, he took his choicest prints, which were packed in boxes and loaded on a van. A butler rode with them carrying a fire extinguisher.
At 56 John married, but his wife died in 1943 and soon afterward he moved to the Ritz-Carlton Hotel where he lived surrounded by a few of his lesser paintings. A man of fixed habits, Spaulding descended at six every evening to the hotel mezzanine, ordered two old-fashioneds and, because he hated poorly dressed women, sat there muttering about the frumpy hats worn by Boston dowagers. At dinner he ordered the best inexpensive food on the menu, never plunged beyond a $.25 dessert. He died last January at the age of 77. Speaking of John Spaulding and all that he stood for, Mrs. William Spaulding, his brother's widow, sighed gently and said, "It's too bad it's all gone and finished now. We had such wonderful fun."
SPAULDING HOME in Boston is on this Beacon Street corner, overlooking the Charles River. When his brother married in 1909 Spaulding moved to top floor. When he himself got married he took over the house and filled it with paintings.
SPAULDING YACHT, Isis, was anchored off family's summer home at Pride's Crossing. Summer home (below) had rooms with high vaulted and decorated ceilings and such steep stairs that footmen had to carry the babies up and down them.
Excerpt from "The Spaulding Collection: A Boston Storybook Character Gives Magnificent Art to Museum," Life (1 November 1948), n.p.