Maxim Karolik


and his wife, Martha Codman Karolik (1858–1948), were collectors of American furniture, paintings, and folk art. Residents of Boston, Massachusetts, and Newport,Rhode Island, they made substantial gifts of American folk art to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Shelburne Museum in Vermont. Of Jewish heritage, MaximKarolik was born in Russia. Trained as an operatic tenor at St. Petersburg Conservatory, he immigrated to America in 1922. He is said to have met Martha Codman, aBoston Brahmin, at a private dinner party at her Washington, D.C., home, where he entertained her guests as a singer. He was 35 years her junior, and their 1928marriage was criticized by some members of her family. He adopted and soon surpassed her passion for collecting American furni ture, sculpture, and painting, as wellas both academic and folk art.Between 1938 and 1964, the Karoliks contributed more than two thousand objects to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The first gifts, primarily hers, were of fineAmerican furniture and decorative objects. The second major gift, in 1949, of American paintings, executed in the period from 1815 to 1865, included a substantial body of what Maxim Karolik referred to as primitive paintings. “The Primitives,” he wrote, “are often fascinating in their technical artlessness, which is probably onecause of their appearing so genuine and so winning.” He attempted to compare the products of the more academically trained artists to those of the primitives, andconcluded that the comparison had no meaning. An immigrant who passionately adopted the ideals of his new country, Karolik became an important proponent of theaesthetic quality of folk painting. Included in the gift were paintings by John Brewster Jr. (1766–1854), Erastus Salisbury Field (1805–1900) and William MatthewPrior (1806–1873).A third large gift, primarily his, was of a substantial body of 350 portraits, landscape paintings, sandpaper paintings, memorial art, velvet paintings, fraktur,calligraphy, and primitive sculpture, all by folk artists. Works on paper included that of Ruth Henshaw Bascom (1772–1848), Joseph H.Davis (active 1832–1837),Eunice Pinney (1770–1849), and Mary Ann Willson (active c. 1800–c. 1830), as well as more than seventy frakturs by Pennsylvania German artists. The carvedsculptural figures were represented by birds and animals, weathervanes, a whirligig, a carousel rooster, and twenty-one wildfowl decoys. In addition there werePennsylvanian Wilhelm Schimmel’s (1817–1890) carvings of eagles, roosters, birds, a lion, and a soldier. The stated goal of the Karoliks, to provide “art for thenation,” was achieved through these gifts.Following the death of his wife, Maxim Karolik befriended fellow folk art collector Electra Have-meyer Webb (1888–1960), founder of Vermont’s ShelburneMuseum. She purchased from Karolik a substantial body of American paintings. Several sales, in fact, were completed in the late 1950s by Webb, and by others at theShelburne in 1961, following her death. Paintings by Erastus Salisbury Field and Matthew Prior, as well as by a dozen unidentified folk artists, constituted only a minor portion of the purchases, which also included paintings by the major American academic artists Washington Allston, Albert Bierstadt (1830–1902), Martin Heade(1918–1904), and Fitz Hugh Lane (1084–1865). The Karolik paintings formed the core of the Shelburne Museum’s American art gallery.
Cox, Janet. “Maxim Karolik’s American Originals.”
Harvard Magazine
(February 1976): 35–41.Karolik, Maxim. “The American Way.”
Atlantic Monthly,
vol. 170, no. 4 (October 1942): 101–105.Troyen, Carol. “The Incomparable Max: Maxim Karolik and the Taste for American Art.”
American Art,
vol. 7, no. 3 (summer 1993): 65–87.Winchester, Alice. “Maxim Karolik and His Collections.”
Art in America,
vol. 45, no. 3 (fall 1957): 34–44, 70