The Delaware Art Museum has received three gifts totaling $1.7 million to fully endow the museum’s Curator of the Bancroft Collection of Pre-Raphaelite Art. Currently under sanctions imposed by national museum associations, the Delaware museum will head in a new direction with the gifts after suffering backlash from having sold two works from its collections this year to help satisfy a $19.8 million bond debt.
The Bancroft Curator endowment—the museum’s first endowed position—was supported by two anonymous donations and a gift from Peggy and Ed Woolard of Wilmington, Delaware. The endowment will be named the Annette Woolard-Provine Endowed Curator of the Bancroft Collection in honor of the Woolards’ daughter, who is also a current Delaware Art Museum Trustee.
“Endowed curator positions help museums attract and retain the most talented scholars in the profession,” says Mike Miller, Chief Executive Officer, Delaware Art Museum. “We are delighted that three very generous donors chose to invest in the Museum and in the Bancroft Collection through this incredible joint gift. These gifts demonstrate the community’s ongoing support and desire to see the Museum thrive.”
The museum's core collection came from Samuel Bancroft, Jr. (1840 – 1915), a Wilmington textile mill owner, who was “shocked with delight” upon viewing his first Pre-Raphaelite painting in 1880. His decision to collect Pre-Raphaelite art was highly unusual, both within the local community and in the United States, as British Pre-Raphaelite artists were relatively unknown outside of the United Kingdom. By the time of his death in 1915, Bancroft had assembled a collection of over 100 paintings, prints and drawings, in addition to a significant library and archive, all of which was bequeathed to the museum in 1935. The Samuel and Mary R. Bancroft Collection has continued to expand and is one of the largest and most significant Pre-Raphaelite holdings outside of the United Kingdom.
In 1935, when the Samuel Bancroft’s family donated his Pre-Raphaelite collection to the Wilmington Society of the Fine Arts (now the Delaware Art Museum), they also donated 11 acres of land on Kentmere Parkway in Wilmington.