Louise and Walter Arensberg’s extraordinary gift to the museum in 1950, together with that of A. E. Gallatin, forms the cornerstone of the institution’s modern art collection. Their path to becoming collectors was set in 1913 after a visit to the legendary Armory Show in New York, where they saw Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2), a painting they would later acquire. In 1915 they eagerly opened their home to Duchamp, beginning a forty-year friendship and collaboration between the artist and the collectors.
Throughout their collecting career, the Arensbergs purchased works by Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Salvador Dalí, Marc Chagall, and Vasily Kandinsky, among others. They also assembled the largest collection of Constantin Brancusi’s sculptures outside Paris. Their interests extended beyond Western art, and their holdings of pre-Columbian art were displayed alongside contemporary works. Above all, the couple amassed the foremost collection of Duchamp’s work in the world, making the museum a place of pilgrimage for generations of artists and art lovers.