Friday, February 6, 2009

And so the Saga of the Rembrandt Giveaway Continues at the Inn

In my last post I began a story told to me by one of my guests who stayed with me here at the B&B. He had been a collector of famous etchings by Rembrandt, Whistler, and other masters. Steven Block's collection was comprised of nearly 120 pieces, all etchings and lithographs, which he had started in the late'60s. Collecting is not his primary endeavor or work though, he is actually a philanthropist, a sociologist, and a community planner. The collecting, as it turns out, happened accidentally, but continued for many years. It all ended, however, when he returned to Louisville, his home town, in 2004 and made the decision to give away or partially sell every single piece in the collection!

And why would he do such a thing? For money? No, although he did get a small partial payment for some of them. For philanthropy? Well, partly, but that was not the motivating factor. For fear of having them stolen? Maybe, a little. But mostly, he was growing old and wanted to find a safe place for them, one where they would be well taken care of. And what better places than the JB Speed Art Museum and the University of Louisville?

The University of Louisville got the Rembrandt and a few other pieces, including a Picasso drawing, and The JB Speed Art Museum got the entire Whistler collection, the Grant Wood collection and the Currier and Ives pieces. To read more about the Rembrandt, go to:

As for Whistler, Steven discovered some of the artist's neglected creations in Washington DC in the late '70s. This interest in Whistler turned into the finest private collection of his lithographs in the world. It included over half the known works and most important ones (88 in all). They have been exhibited at the Speed Museum and have traveled around the world with the Smithsonian. The lithographs, done between 1878 and 1903, were eventually given with partial sale to the Speed by Mr Block in 2004. Also included was a lithograph of Whistler himself, by printer Thomas Way. The acquisition has made the Speed a major center for the study of this important American artist.

Mr Block attended the University of Louisville, majoring in sociology, before going off to Harvard grad school to study community planning. After working on a city planning project in Italy for two years, he ended up in Washington DC. He stayed in Washington 40 years designing and implementing a national, community service program by the name of Vista, now known as America CorpsVista. He returned to Louisville in 2004, when he was 70 years old, and bought a house in Old Louisville, 3 blocks from my bed and breakfast.


  1. Well finally, an end to this interesting mystery. Would love to see the Rembrandt etchings. Mr. Block sounds like a facinating old gentleman. Is he still collecting?

  2. Thanks for the comment. As far as I know, he still has a few etchings in his home, but I don't think he is actively collecting anymore. Most of that was done on the east coast, when he lived there. He appears to now be living amore sedentary life.

  3. I love James Whistler's etchings. But it seems that his painting of his mother is much more popular. Do you know which museum it's in now?

  4. No, but I am sure you can find out bu googling "Whistler's Mother"