Edward King, director of Walters from '51-'66

March 11, 1995|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,Sun Staff Writer

Edward S. King, retired director of the Walters Art Gallery and the only staff member ever to have met the railroad magnate for whom it is named, died Wednesday of complications from a long illness at Union Memorial Hospital. He was 95.

"He was 8 years old and went to a reception with his father and shook the hand of Henry Walters," said William R. Johnson, current director of the Walters, "Oddly enough, he was the only member of the gallery's staff to ever have met Mr. Walters."

Mr. Walters routinely traveled to Europe with a million-dollar budget to acquire art. When he died in 1931, he left his collection of 25,000 items to Baltimore along with an $8 million endowment and the main downtown building in which it is still housed.

Mr. King, a nationally recognized authority on painting and one of the outstanding figures in the local art world, joined the Walters staff as associate curator in 1934, and was director from 1951 until his retirement in 1966.

Until recent years, he had continued to work as a part-time research associate and cataloger.

"He is the next to last surviving member of the 1934 staff that undertook the Herculean task of cataloging all of the inventory from 270 unopened crates," said Mr. Johnson.

"He was responsible for cataloging all of the pre-19th century European paintings and the Asian art."

During Mr. King's tenure, the gallery's department of education was enlarged and programs were extended to the public schools. Lectures for adults on art history and archaeology were begun as were a weekly television series and annual museum tours to Europe.

Attendance increased during his directorship due in a large part to such memorable exhibitions as "Three Ancient Hebrew Scrolls From the Dead Sea" (1949), "From the Land of the Bible" (1954), "French Painting of the Seventeenth Century" (1961) and "Tutankhamun Treasures" (1963).

Mr. King credited his accomplishments to his staff, which he described as being "exceptionally talented and devoted."

"That is his legacy. He was able as director to administer extremely strong personalities and create the environment for them in which to excel," Mr. Johnson said.

He wrote pioneering articles on the gallery's Ingres and Delacroix collections and wrote on other subjects for The Journal of the Walters Art Gallery. He co-wrote with Marvin C. Ross the catalog of the gallery's American works of art.

"He was a very urbane and civilized person who had a very subtle, gentle wit. He was always a pleasure to be with," Mr. Johnson said.

He described his Baltimore family as not being "particularly artistic" and credited his interest in art from the "rumblings of maiden aunts and a father who drew a little."

He was a 1918 graduate of the Boys' Latin School and earned his bachelor's degree in 1922 and a master's degree in fine arts in 1927 from Princeton University. His roommate there, Alfred Barr, became founding director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

He studied Far Eastern art at Harvard University and after teaching for a year at Princeton, taught art for four years at Bryn Mawr College before coming to Baltimore.

He enjoyed gardening at his former residence on St. Albans Way in Homeland, and figure skating -- even making an appearance with the Ice Capades on one occasion.

He was known as an excellent Sunday painter.

Known for his personal thriftiness resulting from the Depression, he often repaired his own trousers and designed his own neckties from discarded silk dressing gowns.

"I lead a very pedestrian existence. No sparks. I've never shot big game in Africa. I've never been on a commando raid," he told The Sun in an interview.

His 1932 marriage to the late Russian Princess Tatiana Galitzine ended in divorce.

He is survived by a son, Henry A. G. King of Princeton, N.J., and two grandchildren.

A memorial service is planned for 2 p.m. today at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, 5603 N. Charles St.

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