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Inside the Legendary Art-Filled Home of Walter and Louise Arensberg

Beatrice Wood, Louise Arensberg, Walter Arensberg, and Marcel Duchamp in the garden at 7065 Hillside Avenue, Los Angeles, August 1936. Courtesy of Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts / Happy Valley Foundation.

Beatrice Wood, Louise Arensberg, Walter Arensberg, and Marcel Duchamp in the garden at 7065 Hillside Avenue, Los Angeles, August 1936. Courtesy of Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts / Happy Valley Foundation.

Detail of the living room of Louise and Walter Arensberg’s house, 7065 Hillside Avenue, Los Angeles, October 1939. Photo © 2020 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Photo by Charles Sheeler. Courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Lane Collection. Pictured artworks: Henri Matisse, Madame Yvonne Landsberg, 1914. © 2020 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Picasso, Still Life with a Violin and a Guitar, 1912–13. © 2020 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Detail of the living room of Louise and Walter Arensberg’s house, 7065 Hillside Avenue, Los Angeles, October 1939. Photo © 2020 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Photo by Charles Sheeler. Courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Lane Collection. Pictured artworks: Henri Matisse, Madame Yvonne Landsberg, 1914. © 2020 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Picasso, Still Life with a Violin and a Guitar, 1912–13. © 2020 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

No photographs have been found of the bathrooms at 7065 Hillside Avenue in Los Angeles from back when their walls were still covered with artworks collected by Walter and Louise Arensberg. There also aren’t any photographs of the couple (and their beloved terrier, Lollie) posing in their home, which was filled to the brim with roughly 40 and 19 —just a few of the works that made up one of the most extensive private American collections of early 20th-century art.
“Paintings were jammed and crowded on every available space from floor to ceiling,” reported New York Times art critic Aline Louchheim after her 1949 visit to the couple’s five-bedroom Hollywood home. “They filled the porch, trembled on the backs of doors, [and] lined the bathrooms.”
Living Room with views into the dining room through the north and south archways, ca. January 1951. Photo by Floyd Faxon. Courtesy of Philadelphia Museum of Art, Library and Archives, Arensberg Archives. Pictured artworks: Constantin Brancusi, Prodigal Son, 1914–15, and Three Penguins, 1911–12. © Succession Brancusi – All rights reserved (ARS) 2020; Georges Braque, Still Life (Violin), 1913, and Still Life (with the Word VIN), 1912–13. © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris; Marcel Duchamp, The King and Queen Surrounded by Swift Nudes, 1912, and Yvonne and Magdeleine Torn in Tatters, 1911. © Association Marcel Duchamp / ADAGP, Paris / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 2020; Paul Klee, Village Carnival, 1926. © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Pablo Picasso, Old Woman (Woman with Gloves), 1901, and Head, 1906. © 2020 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Living Room with views into the dining room through the north and south archways, ca. January 1951. Photo by Floyd Faxon. Courtesy of Philadelphia Museum of Art, Library and Archives, Arensberg Archives. Pictured artworks: Constantin Brancusi, Prodigal Son, 1914–15, and Three Penguins, 1911–12. © Succession Brancusi – All rights reserved (ARS) 2020; Georges Braque, Still Life (Violin), 1913, and Still Life (with the Word VIN), 1912–13. © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris; Marcel Duchamp, The King and Queen Surrounded by Swift Nudes, 1912, and Yvonne and Magdeleine Torn in Tatters, 1911. © Association Marcel Duchamp / ADAGP, Paris / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 2020; Paul Klee, Village Carnival, 1926. © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Pablo Picasso, Old Woman (Woman with Gloves), 1901, and Head, 1906. © 2020 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

While these images have been lost to time, other snapshots of the house’s nearly 1,000 artworks and 4,000 rare books and manuscripts do exist. In the book Hollywood Arensberg: Avant-Garde Collecting in Midcentury L.A. (Getty Publications, 2020), these photographs were assembled for the first time in order to fully reproduce the collecting duo’s curated floor plan. Vintage black-and-white images from a smattering of sources unlock the door to the couple’s brick foyer, guiding readers through the house to see the famed collection as the Arensbergs saw it.
Quirky arrangements of sculptures alongside or paintings matched the playful nature of their beloved and Cubist artworks. A painting titled Open Window (1917) hung to the left of the dining room bay window to add another glassy view without breaking walls. ’s Improvisation No. 29 (The Swan) (1912) loomed over the guest room bed, making it impossible to sit up for fear of knocking into it. Seeing the collection in its original jam-packed setting—as opposed to its current home at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where the Arensbergs ultimately gifted it—is a decidedly different experience.
Installation view of The Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection, featuring works by Constantin Brancusi. © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. Courtesy of Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2020.

Installation view of The Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection, featuring works by Constantin Brancusi. © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. Courtesy of Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2020.

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“The Arensbergs not only created meaningful associations between the diverse works in their collection, but saw the collection as a whole as a form of self-representation,” said Bill Sherman, one of the lead contributors to Hollywood Arensberg and director of London’s Warburg Institute, explaining the value of restaging this art-filled house. “Every object in every image prompts us to ask: Why did the Arensbergs collect this piece, and why did they put it where they did? The couple did more than buy, own, and display art: They curated it and used it to play games, teach lessons, keep secrets, and carry out conversations with people present and absent, living and dead.”
The Arensbergs first began collecting around the time of the 1913 Armory Show, a blockbuster traveling exhibition that introduced Americans to avant-garde European art. At the time, many critics cringed at exhibition standouts like Duchamp’s scandalous Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2) (1912); Walter and Louise, however, tried to buy it. They even relocated from Massachusetts to Manhattan in order to inch closer to the contemporary art scene and more easily acquire paintings they’d admired at the Armory Show. Within a couple years, they were the leading collectors of works by Duchamp, whom they befriended and set up in a studio apartment in their West 67th Street building.
Living room and foyer viewed from the dining room, ca. 1944. Photo by Fred R. Dapprich. Courtesy of Philadelphia Museum of Art, Library and Archives, Arensberg Archives. Pictured artworks: Giorgio de Chirico, The Soothsayer’s Recompense, 1913. © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SIAE, Rome; Marcel Duchamp, The King and Queen Traversed by Swift Nudes at High Speed, 1912. © Association Marcel Duchamp / ADAGP, Paris / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 2020; Jean Metzinger, Landscape with Roofs, 1914. © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris; Pablo Picasso, Female Nude, 1910. © 2020 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Living room and foyer viewed from the dining room, ca. 1944. Photo by Fred R. Dapprich. Courtesy of Philadelphia Museum of Art, Library and Archives, Arensberg Archives. Pictured artworks: Giorgio de Chirico, The Soothsayer’s Recompense, 1913. © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SIAE, Rome; Marcel Duchamp, The King and Queen Traversed by Swift Nudes at High Speed, 1912. © Association Marcel Duchamp / ADAGP, Paris / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 2020; Jean Metzinger, Landscape with Roofs, 1914. © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris; Pablo Picasso, Female Nude, 1910. © 2020 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

“The couple and the artist had a close relationship,” explained John Vick, a collection project manager at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. “It would be hard to imagine what Duchamp’s career would have been like without their support and patronage.”
Louise was the shyer of the pair, so Walter was the one to closely engage with Duchamp’s subversive love of chance and readymade materials. They collaborated a few times early on in their friendship, in artworks such as Comb (1916) where Walter penned a phrase that Duchamp painted onto a steel comb (the one used to groom the couple’s dog). They also partnered on With Hidden Noise (1916), wherein Walter inserted an unidentified object into a ball of twine screwed between two brass plates. Both of these prize possessions were later kept in a glass-paned cabinet in the guest bedroom.
Dining room with a view into the living room through the north archway, ca. 1944. Photo by Fred R. Dapprich. Courtesy of Philadelphia Museum of Art, Library and Archives, Arensberg Archives. Pictured artworks: Paul Klee, Animal Terror, 1926, Jörg, 1924, and Prestidigitator (Conjuring Trick), 1927. © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Fernand Léger, Contrast of Forms, 1913–14. © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris; André Masson, Animal Caught in a Trap, 1929. © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

Dining room with a view into the living room through the north archway, ca. 1944. Photo by Fred R. Dapprich. Courtesy of Philadelphia Museum of Art, Library and Archives, Arensberg Archives. Pictured artworks: Paul Klee, Animal Terror, 1926, Jörg, 1924, and Prestidigitator (Conjuring Trick), 1927. © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Fernand Léger, Contrast of Forms, 1913–14. © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris; André Masson, Animal Caught in a Trap, 1929. © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

These artworks—plus a generous number of works by , , and —crossed the country in the 1920s when the Arensbergs decided to swap New York for Los Angeles, and their uptown apartment for a spacious two-story house in Hollywood. Their extra wall space wasn’t vacant for long, as Louise and Walter quickly transformed every room, bookcase, mantelpiece, and even the backs of doors into conduits for propping up their growing art collection.
“Has the house ever been photographed? It should be documented from cellar to attic,” wrote James Thrall Soby, a curator at the Museum of Modern Art, in 1945. “The Arensberg pictures stand belligerently close together, but they do not fight. Their hanging breaks every museum precept of height, space and light, but you see them clearly, one by one, and remember them in detail for a long time afterward.”
The Arensbergs weren’t trying to be a museum, but they did toy with the idea of creating one and even put some of their trust fund money towards buying the house next door. In the end, they ultimately used the raw material of their readymade home—with a few artistic tweaks. They tailored their house to their desires, commissioning modernist architect to add a ground-floor sunroom, and Henry Palmer Sabin to design a new entryway.
Foyer, after September 25 but before October 12, 1948. Photo by Floyd Faxon. Courtesy of Philadelphia Museum of Art, Library and Archives, Arensberg Archives. Picture artworks: Constantin Brancusi, Arch, ca. 1914-16, and Princess X, 1915-16. © Succession Brancusi – All rights reserved (ARS) 2020.

Foyer, after September 25 but before October 12, 1948. Photo by Floyd Faxon. Courtesy of Philadelphia Museum of Art, Library and Archives, Arensberg Archives. Picture artworks: Constantin Brancusi, Arch, ca. 1914-16, and Princess X, 1915-16. © Succession Brancusi – All rights reserved (ARS) 2020.

Second Floor, ca. 1944 (no later than January 1949). Courtesy of Philadelphia Museum of Art, Library and Archives, Arensberg Archives. Pictured artworks: Georges Braque, Violin and Newspaper, 1912–13. © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris; Max Ernst, Garden Plane Trap, 1934–35. © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris; Lyonel Feininger, Umpferstedt II, 1914. © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn; Carlos Mérida, The Window, 1933. © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SOMAAP, Mexico City; Jean Metzinger, The Bathers, 1913. © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris; Diego Rivera, The Flowered Canoe, 1931. © 2020 Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Second Floor, ca. 1944 (no later than January 1949). Courtesy of Philadelphia Museum of Art, Library and Archives, Arensberg Archives. Pictured artworks: Georges Braque, Violin and Newspaper, 1912–13. © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris; Max Ernst, Garden Plane Trap, 1934–35. © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris; Lyonel Feininger, Umpferstedt II, 1914. © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn; Carlos Mérida, The Window, 1933. © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SOMAAP, Mexico City; Jean Metzinger, The Bathers, 1913. © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris; Diego Rivera, The Flowered Canoe, 1931. © 2020 Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Right after moving to 7065 Hillside, Walter and Louise commissioned an add-on foyer with a wall customized to show off two Brancusi sculptures—Arch (ca. 1914–16) and Princess X (1915– 16). Wooden pilasters were proportioned to align with Arch, a rough oak archway crafted from salvaged architectural materials, and a bespoke niche created for the bronze Princess X. “The audacity of this design is notable because it marks one of the first times that an architectural feature was purpose-built into an American home specifically to hold modern art,” wrote Sherman and co-author Mark Nelson in Hollywood Arensberg.
This cherished installation was dismantled after both Louise and Walter died by 1954, and their entire art collection was gifted to the Philadelphia Museum of Art (their rare book library went to California’s Huntington Library). Among the many ways that their paintings and sculptures are presented differently in their institutional setting, Brancusi’s Arch and Princess X are no longer a twosome. What normally happens when art collectors bequeath their treasures to museums happened to the Arensberg trove; personal touches were inevitably lost.
Sitting room, ca. January 1951. Photo by Floyd Faxon. Courtesy of Philadelphia Museum of Art, Library and Archives, Arensberg Archives. Pictured artworks: Constantin Brancusi, White Negress [I], 1923, and Prometheus, 1911. © Succession Brancusi – All rights reserved (ARS) 2020; Marcel Duchamp, Portrait of Chess Players, 1911. © Association Marcel Duchamp / ADAGP, Paris / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 2020; Francis Picabia, Dances at the Spring, 1912. © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris; Pablo Picasso, Still Life: The Table, 1921. © 2020 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Sitting room, ca. January 1951. Photo by Floyd Faxon. Courtesy of Philadelphia Museum of Art, Library and Archives, Arensberg Archives. Pictured artworks: Constantin Brancusi, White Negress [I], 1923, and Prometheus, 1911. © Succession Brancusi – All rights reserved (ARS) 2020; Marcel Duchamp, Portrait of Chess Players, 1911. © Association Marcel Duchamp / ADAGP, Paris / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 2020; Francis Picabia, Dances at the Spring, 1912. © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris; Pablo Picasso, Still Life: The Table, 1921. © 2020 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

The Arensbergs gifted their artworks to the museum under the condition that they be displayed as a standalone collection for 25 years. After that, they were free to mingle. “In more recent decades, the display of Arensberg and other modern works in the collection has ceaselessly evolved,” noted Matthew Affron, a modern art curator at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. “However, the galleries devoted to Brancusi and Duchamp are majority Arensberg; they will continue to be that way in the future.”
Early 20th-century artists like Duchamp and Brancusi were certainly among the Arensbergs’ favorites, but the impressive reach of their collection also spanned 3rd-century Mexico to medieval Italy and Spain, as well as anonymous colonial American portraitists and modern masters like and . “I think we collected what we liked,” Walter pensively told Kenneth Ross, a Californian modern art advocate, around 1951. “We never proposed or thought to make a collection. We suddenly found ourselves in a fix. We had a lot of things we liked.”
Karen Chernick