This exhibition celebrates the bicentennial of the arrival of James Bowdoin III’s bequest.
Born in Massachusetts, James Bowdoin III endowed Bowdoin College in 1794 in honor of his father, James Bowdoin II, and bequeathed his extensive collection of paintings and drawings which came to the College in 1813. As a merchant, diplomat, and philanthropist, James Bowdoin III (1752-1811) witnessed during his lifetime great transformations in American governance, education, and culture. Colonists prevailed over British rule, creating an enduring democracy that promoted principles of education, personal achievement, and refinement. As a collector and patron of the arts, Bowdoin understood European artistic traditions to be essential to education in America. As they had in previous generations, Americans turned to Great Britain—and now to their ally France—for sources of design in painting, furniture, and dress. New goods available with the resumed trans-Atlantic trade, as well as published pattern books, helped to disseminate fashionable designs. Even while emulating European style, Americans sought their own identity in art as they had in nation-building. This exhibition celebrates the bicentennial of the arrival of James Bowdoin III’s bequest. His gift laid the foundation for a formidable art collection in early Maine.