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The Best of Its Kind: The Life of Denman Waldo Ross (Teacher, Collector, Painter 1853-1935)


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The Best of Its Kind: The Life of Denman Waldo Ross (Teacher, Collector, Painter 1853-1935)

Denman Waldo Ross (1853–1935) spent his life pursuing beauty in the form of art. He traveled the world collecting examples of what he called “the best of its kind,” eventually donating 11,000 objects to the nascent Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) in Boston (where he served as a trustee for forty years) and another 9,000 objects to the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University. He said, of his collecting philosophy, “Our real interest lies in art itself as the expression of life. We see in the masterpieces of art what life has been at its finest moments and what it ought to be again and again. It is for this reason that the study of art is one of the most important of all studies for everybody.”

Ross’s dedication to teaching and his books was an expression of this philosophy. At the Harvard Summer School for thirty years he taught art to public school teachers, who would incorporate his theories into mass production and manufacturing across the country. He served for many years on the Board of Advisors to the Boston Public schools. He also taught private classes and at Harvard University, developing a “set palette” to teach painters about color dynamics. His own watercolors and oils, many now owned by the MFA, the Gardner Museum and the Harvard Art Museums, serve as examples of his theories.

Ross’s circle of friends included artists, intellectuals, and other collectors, including John Singer Sargent, Isabella Stewart Gardner, Louis Brandeis, and Bernard Berenson.

About the Author:

Patricia Ross Pratt was born and raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she still lives. After graduating from Smith College, she worked at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. She was awarded a fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute to begin work on this biography of Denman Ross. A watercolor painter herself, she has served on the Visiting Committee of the Asiatic Art Department at the MFA for forty years, and has been a board member and volunteer with numerous organizations, from Women’s Action for Nuclear Disarmament, to the Cambridge Community Foundation, to the Fresh Pond Masterplan Committee. Pratt ran a landscape-design practice specializing in historic preservation. “The Best of Its Kind,” she says, “is a long-incubated tribute to a rare and distinguished leader in the arts as teacher, collector, writer, and painter.”

194 pages + 24 pages of color illustrations • ISBN: 978-1-933153-38-4 • $60.00 • hardcover

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