The Jack Daulton Collection

About the Collector,

Jack Daulton

Melchior Lechter, Blaue Blume Einsamkeit (Blue Flower of Loneliness), 1892-93

Excerpt from e-mail dated October 28, 2020, from art collector Jack Daulton to Nathalie Bondil, then Director General and Chief Curator, Museum of Fine Arts, Montreal:

"Although there is some information online about me and my nonlinear and eclectic career, relatively little has been published about my art collection and its formation.  I think it may be one of the most significant unknown collections in the United States; I think that is partly because the collection idiosyncratically focuses upon a relatively obscure, overlooked, and out-of-fashion area of art history (German/Austrian symbolist art) and the somewhat forgotten and eccentric artists of that area and era (such as Gabriel von Max), but also because I have built the collection utterly on my own, almost reclusively, and without fanfare over the past 30 years.  Allow me, therefore, to shed some light on the origin and development of my collection and, in particular, about my passionate interest in Gabriel von Max.


Let's start at the very beginning.  I grew up in a middle-class American family.  Although my parents could not afford the luxury of an art collection, they were very interested in art.  My father's library included a number of art history books and the walls of our home were decorated with reproductions of masterpieces by artists such as Vincent van Gogh ("The Starry Night"), Picasso ("Night Fishing at Antibes"), Paul Klee, Marc Chagall, and others.  In addition, my brother Robert Daulton became an artist (MFA, The School of The Art Institute of Chicago).  In short, I was raised in an art-infused milieu. 


And, from a very early age, I was a collector.  In my childhood, I developed a very good collection of insects (specimens I collected in the field) as well as a nice collection of rocks and minerals.  In my early teen years, I amassed a precocious postage stamp collection that ultimately focused on the stamps of Germany of the 19th century and early 20th century.  (My brother Robert says that my current art collecting is just "advanced stamp collecting.")  I purchased my first work of art at a gallery in San Francisco in 1975 (when I was 19 years old), a color etching by Peter Max, "The Great Wave" (referencing Hokusai's famous woodblock print); because I was a poor student at the time, my brother and I pooled our money and purchased the etching together; we still own this delightful print.  After graduating from law school in 1981, I had little time to collect art as an overworked young trial lawyer (although I did purchase some late surrealist prints by Salvador Dali and Roland Topor in the early 1980's).


In 1987, my art collecting began in earnest when I purchased a house in Chicago across the street from one of Chicago's most accomplished and eccentric collectors and connoisseurs, the late Eugene Chesrow (1930-2016).  He befriended me, and I became his acolyte as a collector.  A very successful, but reclusive, commodities trader, Eugene lived alone in a three-story 19th-century brick mansion that he filled with an eclectic collection of masterpieces that included Graeco-Roman antiquities, Northwest Coast Native American art, antique Central Asian embroideries, Tiffany lamps, Chinese Tang and Ming dynasty Buddhist sculpture, and even Claude landscape drawings.  The part of Eugene's collection that most intrigued me was a group of charcoal drawings by the great French symbolist Odilon Redon.  The dark mystery of his work captured my imagination.  As a young lawyer, Redon's artwork was beyond my budget.  However, I was inspired to learn more about symbolist art generally, and my research led me to the German symbolists, in particular to the prints of Max Klinger, an area of the art market that seemed relatively under-collected and under-valued -- and thus accessible to me as a young collector.  I purchased my first German symbolist work in 1988: Max Klinger's iconic etching, the macabre but hauntingly beautiful "Tote Mutter" ["Dead Mother"] of 1893. 


In the 1980's and early 1990's, it was logistically challenging as an American to collect German symbolist art (although a lot of German art was resurfacing with the reunification of east and west).  Because there was no internet, I really had to work hard to develop my collection via telephone, fax, and "snail-mail" communication with dealers and auction houses in Germany and the UK.  Beginning in the late 1990s, the internet revolutionized art collecting (a revolution that is still playing out, even more so in Covid-times); and, early on, I embraced and took advantage of the new online marketplaces and the improved accessibility to art that they provided (almost all of my collection has been purchased long-distant, online).  Those online marketplaces included not just the new websites of the traditional high-end dealers and auction houses that I had dealt with in the past, but also lower-end marketplaces, such as eBay, where I quickly learned that treasures could sometimes be discovered.  And, believe it or not, it was, in fact on eBay that I first encountered Gabriel von Max! 


In December 2006, while perusing eBay, I discovered a beautiful drawing of the head of a woman, gazing upward, in conté crayon on paper, signed "G. Max."  The drawing caught my attention because it had a somewhat symbolist quality to it.  The vendor identified it as a work by Gabriel von Max, an artist who I had never heard of.  Some quick online research revealed the extraordinary biography of von Max, his interest in parapsychology and especially his eccentric work with monkeys.  I acquired the drawing for the absurdly low price of EUR 157!  After that purchase, I began searching online for other works by von Max; and, in early 2008, I made my first purchase of one of his monkey paintings (the painting "Bitter Experiences"), from a dealer in Munich.  Later that year, I purchased several more of his monkey paintings at auction in Cologne, including the wonderful "Song Without Worth" (or "Worthless Song").  I was very lucky to acquire these paintings when I did, for the prices were then quite good.  At that time, Gabriel von Max was virtually unknown in the USA; and there was relatively little interest even in Germany.  That began to change in 2009, with the exhibition "Darwin: Kunst und die Suche nach den Ursprüngen" ["Darwin: Art and the Search for Origins"], at the Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt (curated by Pamela Kort and Max Hollein), celebrating the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his seminal work On the Origin of Species and prominently featuring the work of Gabriel von Max.  That was followed in 2010 by the first retrospective exhibition of his work in modern times, "Gabriel von Max, Malerstar, Darwinist, Spiritist," at the Lenbachhaus in Munich, to which I loaned several works.


Since those early purchases, I have assembled what I believe to be the largest private collection of Gabriel von Max's work, including 34 oil paintings [now 38] (of which 12 are monkey paintings) and more than 28 drawings, as well as numerous photographs, autograph letters, prints, and illustrated books.  My collecting approach has always been an art historical one.  I have sought to collect not only the artist’s creative output (paintings, drawings, and prints), but also anything that sheds light on the artist and his career, e.g., correspondence, diaries, and other autograph manuscript material, photographs of the artist, books and periodicals, and ephemera.  The market for Gabriel von Max material has become in recent years much more competitive and the prices have risen, yet I continue to be able to acquire desirable von Max material."


Jack Daulton

The Daulton Collection

Los Altos Hills, California


Instagram: @thedaultoncollection