Alexander Brown Griswold dies at 85 was art collector, investment banker

October 05, 1991|By DeWitt Bliss

Alexander Brown Griswold, a retired investment banker whose art collection included the most comprehensive holdings of Thai art outside of Thailand, died yesterday of complications from cancer at his home, Breezewood, in Monkton. He was 85.

In 1987, it was announced that Mr. Griswold had donated the collection of about 300 works of Indian and Southeast Asian art, mostly from Thailand, to the Walters Art Gallery. Some items are currently on display at Hackerman House, the home of the museum's Asian art collection.

For many years, his collection was on public display one day a month, usually in the summer, in the museum wing of his home.

Mr. Griswold "helped the world at large to better know and understand the art and history of the people of Thailand" through his scholarly writings and other educational work, said Hiram W. Woodward Jr., curator of Asian art at the Walters.

A grandson of the founder of the Alex. Brown & Sons investment firm, he began working for the firm in 1930, a year before he became a partner. He retired as a senior partner in 1964.

Born in Baltimore, he was a 1924 graduate of the Gilman School and in 1928 graduated with honors from Princeton University, where he studied art and archaeology and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. He then did graduate work at Cambridge University.

His interest in Thailand and its art began during World War II when, as an Army officer serving with the agency that preceded the Central Intelligence Agency, he was dropped behind the Japanese lines in Thailand.

He was awarded the Bronze Star for his service in Thailand, which included setting up and operating a secret landing field.

He reached the rank of lieutenant colonel.

For many years after World War II, he maintained a home in Thailand as well as in Baltimore.

He also became friendly with the Thai royal family. In 1947, the ambassador to the United States, who was a member of the family, showed his collection of sculpture and other artworks at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

In 1957, he made headlines as an expert on Thailand when he published a defense of 19th-century monarch King Mongkut, claiming that Anna Leonowens had fabricated parts of her account of her experiences as a tutor at his court that provided the basis for the musical "The King and I" and other works.

His books included "Dated Buddha Images of Northern Siam," published in 1957, a book on King Mongkut, published in 1961, a section on architecture and sculpture in a 1960 book on the art of Thailand, and booklets in the Thai Culture Series.

A former editor of Artibus Asiae, the journal of the Siam Society, he also wrote for it and for foreign journals.

Benjamin H. Griswold III explained his brother's interest in Thai culture as a pursuit of knowledge purely for its own sake. "He just became intrigued with it. He had a very active mind, and he was a perfectionist," Mr. Griswold said.

Elected to the board of the Baltimore Museum of Art in 1956, he served in the 1930s and 1940s as assistant secretary to the board at Walters, where his father, Benjamin H. Griswold Jr., had been the first chairman of the board.

He served as a visiting professor at Cornell University and held a yearly seminar for graduate students and faculty members at his home.

Besides his brother, of Monkton, Mr. Griswold is survived by a sister, Carolyn Butler of Glenelg; and several nieces and nephews.

Private services are planned. The family suggested memorial contributions to the Walters Art Gallery.

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