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a national organization to show and promote works by professional women artists founded in 1896

Catherine Lorillard Wolfe,

The "Great Lady of Madison Square"

Catharine Lorillard Wolfe, 1876 

Alexandre Cabanel, Oil on Canvas

Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Collection, 

Bequest of Catharine Lorillard Wolfe,

 1887 (87.15.82)

The portrait represents Catharine Lorillard Wolfe (1828–1887), the first woman elected Benefactor ofthe Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY. The portrait was part of her bequest to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.


Catharine Lorillard Wolfe was a prominent American philanthropist. From early in life she was deeply committed to assisting her father, John David Wolfe, in his many charitable and educational enterprises. At the same time she developed an independent interest in art. Inheriting at her father’s death both his fortune and millions through her mother’s family, the Lorillards, she continued supporting many charitable causes and also began seriously expanding her own collection of art, with a particular interest in living artists.

Miss Wolfe believed strongly in the value of education and the role museums could play in presenting art to the public. When The Metropolitan Museum of Art was incorporated in 1870 by a group of businessmen, she was the only woman among the 106 founding members. She ultimately bequeathed her collection of 140 paintings, along with an endowment for its maintenance, to the Museum. Miss Wolfe’s endowment was the Museum’s first, and her collection formed the beginning of the Museum’s European Painting Collection. Since then the Museum has been able to expand this Collection utilizing the Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Collection, Wolfe Fund. Paul Cezanne’s “View of the Domaine Saint-Joseph” and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot’s “Fontainebleau – Black Oak Trees at Bas-Breau” were purchased with the Wolfe Fund.

As a life-long supporter of Grace Church, Miss Wolfe also left a substantial bequest to the Church to be used for some form of “women’s work.” In 1896, the Rector William Reed Huntington, and Mrs. Newell, wife of the Rector of the Episcopal Church in Paris, established the Club bearing Catharine Lorillard Wolfe’s name. Its purpose was to give aid and counsel to young women art students, who were often alone and in need of support. The Club became a fitting tribute to Miss Wolfe’s charitable concerns and to her commitment to art. For many years the Church provided both exhibition and meeting space for the Club in the Parish House, where CLWAC is still privileged to have its base and hold its meetings.

Excerpts from The Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Collection and the Wolfe Fund

at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York

Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Art Club, Inc.

802 Broadway

New York, NY  10003

Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Art Club, Inc. is a non-profit 501 (c) 3 organization.

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