Why a Boston Native Gave Millions to Chicago's Top Art Museum

The world-famous Art Institute of Chicago recently celebrated a big daythe museum received its largest cash bequest in history. The Art Institute is no stranger to support from wealthy donors and foundations around town. Just last year, in fact, it received a record gift of an art collection worth $400 million, donated by local philanthropists Stefan Edlis and Gael Neeson.

However, this latest benefactor and this gift were a bit different.

A Boston art collector by the name of Dorothy Braude Edinburg passed away a year ago and left at least $35 million to the Chicago museum in her will. One interesting thing about this gift is that Edinburg wasn’t from Chicago. And another is that this money has been earmarked for new art purchases.

This new donation money will likely enable the museum to acquire new prints and drawings, particularly in the Asian arts. This was a longstanding area of interest for the collector, who passed away at the age of 94. She was a huge collector of prints and drawings of the 15th through 20th centuries and Chinese ceramics from the Tang and Song dynasties.

Edinburg’s father and husband ran the Chandler & Farquhar hardware supply company in Boston. She is survived by two of her children, four grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

“Dorothy loved the excitement and the chase,” said Douglas Druick, the Art Institute's director and president. “She liked auctions and liked finding works of art. It was a high for her.”

Chicagoans might be surprised to see this donation coming from a Boston donor, but Edinburg has been a big supporter of the institute for decades now. She has given over 1,500 works of art to the Institute since the early 1990s. The bulk of those works came in huge batch in 2003. Since then, she was very open about wanting to share her collection with the Art Institute of Chicago.

The Art Institute worked with Edinburg on at least a monthly basis and saw the arrangement as a partnership. She would purchase new works but keep in mind her devotion to the institute and actually confer with the staff about building its collection with works that appealed to her. Even her obituary asked that expressions of sympathy in her memory be donated to the institute.

Over the years, she has also given extensively to the Frick Collection in New York City. For example, she made a bequest to this museum in honor of her parents (she’s a second generation art collector) with about 800 paper works of American and European prints/drawings and Japanese printed books and about 150 ceramic and stoneware objects from China and Korea.

According to Crain’s Chicago Business, Edinburg’s gift could reach about $38 million after her estate is fully settled. Crain’s also pointed out that this gift nicely complements Stefan Edlis and Gael Neeson’s gift of 42 works last year, which totaled $400 million. At least at the Art Institute of Chicago, Asian art and global contemporary art are big focal points and big draws for donors. We often see wealthy art collectors leave their works of art behind to museums in their wills, but large cash donations can really give museums the boost they need to bring more people in the door.

“If she had left us her collection of works of art alone she would go down in the annals of the Art Institute as one of its most generous benefactors,” Druick said. “ With this bequest, she’s done this extraordinary double duty.”