The Delaware Art Museum actually started in 1911 with the death of an inspired illustrator, Howard Pyle, while on vacation in Italy. He had a loyal group of students, friends and admirers in his home of Wilmington, Delaware who met in the winter of 1912 to do something to honor his memory. The result was the formation of the Wilmington Society of the fine Arts.
Their original goal was to merely preserve and exhibit the works of Howard Pyle. Generous donations from local patrons led to the purchase of about 100 works of art – paintings, drawings and prints – he had created. These became the foundation of the museum’s first art collection.
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Earlier, in 1890, Samuel Bancroft, Jr. purchased his first Pre-Raphaelite work of art. He went on to purchase additional artwork and archival documents. When he died in 1915 he had the largest Pre-Raphaelite collection of art outside of Great Britain. By 1935 his family donated his art collection to the Wilmington society of Fine Arts along with 11 acres of land near Kentmere Parkway on the condition that a museum be built to house Bancroft’s considerable collection.
By 1938 it was renamed the Delaware Art Center. In 1943 the Wilmington Academy of Art joined the Delaware Art Center establishing educational programs. The H. Fletcher Brown Education wing expanded the education wing in 1956.
The art collections were expanded with American artists like Winslow Homer, Frederic Edwin and Paul Cadmus during the 50’s and 60’s. In 1961 Helen Farr Sloan oversaw an additional 5,000 works. The American Association of Museums accredited the museum in 1972 and prompted the name change to the Delaware Art Museum.