Harvard University (Ivy League), 2 Kirkland St, Cambridge, MA 02138
Villa Torri di Gattaia, Viuzzo di Gattaia, 9, 50125 Firenze FI, Italia
Cimitero Evangelico agli Allori, Via Senese, 184, 50124 Firenze FI, Italia
Charles Alexander Loeser (1864–1928) was an American art historian and art collector.
He was born in New York City into a family of German origin: his father, Frederick Loeser (1833-1911), founded Frederick Loeser & Co. After completing his Master of Arts degree in Philosophy at Harvard University in 1888 he decided to travel to Europe and visit his friend and fellow Harvard Alum, George Santayana. He settled into Florence in 1890 where he met and married famous German pianist Olga Lebert Kaufmann, and spent the rest of his life here collecting and studying Medieval and early Renaissance art and furniture. He purchased his Villa Torri Gattaia around 1908 and started on renovations. Nestled into the Florentine hills behind San Miniato al Monte. In Florence, Loeser cultivated his studies. He devoted himself to his studies and the collecting of works of art, and furniture that was flooding the market at the turn of the century. He was like many other English and Americans resident in the city at that time.
In 1875 John Lowell "Jack" Gardner's brother, Joseph P. Gardner, committed suicide, leaving three young sons, Joseph Peabody, William Amory and Augustus Peabody. Jack and Isabella Stewart Gardner adopted and raised the boys. In 1886, Joseph Peabody Gardner, Jr., committed suicide like his father. Douglass Shand-Tucci believes he killed himself because of his unrequited love for another man. Augustus Peabody Gardner became a military officer, a U.S. congressman and son-in-law of Henry Cabot Lodge. William Amory Gardner was probably the lover of Ned Warren, the benefactor of the Museum of Fine Arts. And Shand-Tucci recounts this anecdote about Amory, when he was a don at the then-new Groton School. A young boy brought a minister to William Amory Gardner’s room for a visit after chapel. The visitors having arrived at what turned out to be Gardner’s bedroom, it was at once clear that not only was W.A.G. stark naked before the fireplace (except for a pair of voluptuous bedroom slippers) but also so was the young man reclining on the sofa… Charles Eliot Norton, one of the foremost scholars of archeology in the United States, had four protégés in the 1880s. Three were gay: George Santayana, Charles Loeser, who after a lifetime in Florence bequeathed 8 paintings by Cezanne to the White House and Logan Pearsall Smith. The fourth, Bernard Berenson, was straight but was very accomodating to his gay friends. All four were frequent visitors to the Gardners. Also at Harvard was newphew Joe Gardner Jr, who lived across the hall from Ned Warren and was friends with the four protégés. Joe was in love with Smith and after graduating, he bought a retreat in Hamilton, Massachusetts purchased as a place he could spend time with Smith. For a while the relationship was happy and Smith went up to Hamilton quite frequently, often bringing his sister, Mary Smith (who eventually married Berenson, her second husband, in 1900). Smith eventually lost interest in Joe. The lovesick young man, who frequently suffered from depression, committed suicide on October 10, 1886. Isabella and Jack were brokenhearted while Smith departed for Oxford and a career as a essayist and social critic in England.
At his death, Loeser’s remarkable collection that totalled over 1,000 pieces comprised over two hundred and fifty Old Master prints and drawings, numerous period furnishings, paintings, sculptures and works of applied art. Most were works of Italian Medieval and Renaissance art, but there were also contemporary works, such a collection of Cézanne paintings. Loeser was one of the first to appreciate the artist along with Italian-American collector Egisto Fabbri. The whole collection was characterized by the austere sobriety with which these precious antiques and works of art furnished the various rooms of the villa.
Charles Loeser died during a visit to New York in 1928 but he is nevertheless buried in Florence, Cimitero Evangelico agli Allori. In his will that was drawn up two years earlier, he had ordained that on his death the collection of Old Master prints and drawings would be donated to the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University, that the President of the United States would be able to choose eight of his prized Cézannes "to adorn the White House", and that the selection of over thirty works of art and period furnishings indicated by him should be bequeathed to the City Council of his adoptive city. The Palazzo Vecchio took this collection which would later be known as the "Loeser Bequest”. The Bequest still adorns the rooms of the Quartiere del Mezzanino of Palazzo Vecchio, laid out in line with aesthetic canons similar to those that characterized the interiors of the aristocratic mansions of Renaissance Florence, and which the collectors of Loeser’s time tended to reproduce in their private residences. The collection was originally set up in the Mezzanino by curator, Alfredo Lensi. He had the same vision that Loeser had arranged the space in the Florentine style which kept chronology and style separate from the aesthetic value of the works together. This collection can still be seen in the Palazzo Vecchio set up similarly to how Loeser would have lived with the pieces in his Villa.
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