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Emily Tremaine and Burton G. Tremaine Sr.

Butte, Mont., 1908–Madison, Conn., 1987, and Cleveland, 1901–Rancho Mirage, Calif., 1991

Emily Hall Tremaine and Burton G. Tremaine Sr. were influential American collectors of modern and contemporary art. They acquired most of the four hundred works in their collection between the mid-1940s and the 1970s. The scope of their holdings reflects the Tremaines’ close engagement with the emerging art scene at home and abroad. In addition to acquiring examples from major European avant-garde movements, the Tremaines collected Abstract Expressionist, Pop, and Minimalist art. In the 1980s and ‘90s the collection was gradually dispersed through private and public sales.

Emily developed an interest in art in the 1920s and ‘30s. Based in Santa Barbara, California, she developed friendships with important art collectors and curators who were instrumental in shaping her views on modern art. Among them were Walter and Louise Arensberg, Mildred Barnes and Robert Woods Bliss, Dr. Grace Louise McCann Morley, and Arthur Everett “Chick” Austin Jr. The latter was also a distant relative. Emily made her first important acquisition, Georges Braque’s The Black Rose (1927), around 1938.

In the mid-1940s Emily moved to New York where she met and married Burton, the president of the Miller Company based in Meriden, Connecticut, who was also an art collector. The couple’s first joint acquisition was Piet Mondrian’s Victory Boogie Woogie (1944), which they purchased in 1944. Although the Tremaines bought artwork together, Emily was the guiding force behind the collection. The couple’s early purchases targeted European avant-garde artists, including Braque, Robert Delaunay, Juan Gris, Wassily Kandinsky, Fernand Léger, and Pablo Picasso.

During subsequent decades, the Tremaines altered their focus toward emerging art movements, amassing an extensive inventory of Abstract Expressionist, Pop, and Minimalist art. They were friends and clients of prominent New York dealers, among them Betty Parsons and Leo Castelli, as well as artists whose work they collected, including Willem de Kooning, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, and Andy Warhol. Housed mainly in their residences in New York City and Madison, Connecticut, selections of the Tremaine collection were also publicly exhibited. In 1947–48, the couple, under the auspices of the Miller Company, organized the highly acclaimed exhibition Painting Toward Architecture, which featured works from their already extensive holdings, among them Cubist and Purist paintings, including Gris’s Pears and Grapes on a Table (1913; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Promised Gift from the Leonard A. Lauder Cubist Collection), Le Corbusier’s Still Life (1925), Léger’s Petit Dejeuner (ca. 1921), and Picasso’s Lady with Fan (1911 and 1918). Originating at the Wadsworth Atheneum, the exhibition appeared at twenty-four venues around the country. The accompanying catalogue featured an essay by Henry-Russell Hitchcock and a foreword by Alfred H. Barr Jr. In 1984 the Wadsworth Atheneum staged another show devoted to the Tremaine collection titled The Tremaine Collection: 20th Century Masters, The Spirit of Modernism.

The Tremaines began dispersing their collection in 1980. The 1958 painting Three Flags by Johns, which the couple had acquired directly from the artist soon after it was completed, was purchased by the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1981 for the record price of $1 million. In November 1988 and November 1991 Christie’s New York held auctions of the couple’s works, the proceeds from which were used to establish the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation.

For more information, see:

Hitchcock, Henry-Russell. Painting toward Architecture: The Miller Company Collection of Abstract Art. New York: Duell, Sloan and Piearce, 1948.

Housley, Kathleen L. Emily Hall Tremaine: Collector on the Cusp. Meriden, CT: Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation, 2001.

Stourton, James. Great Collectors of Our Time: Art Collecting since 1945. London: Scala Publishers, 2007.

The Tremaine Collection: 20th Century Masters, The Spirit of Modernism. Exh. Cat. Hartford: Wadsworth Atheneum, 1984.

How to cite this entry:
Jozefacka, Anna, "Emily Tremaine and Burton G. Tremaine Sr.," The Modern Art Index Project (January 2015), Leonard A. Lauder Research Center for Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. https://doi.org/10.57011/SSDH5443

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Pears and Grapes on a Table, Juan Gris  Spanish, Oil on canvas
Juan Gris
Céret, autumn 1913