Walter Conrad Arensberg

Biographical Information
black and white passport photograph of "Walter Arensberg"
Name

Walter Conrad Arensberg

Birth

April 4, 1878, Pittsburgh, PA

Death

January 29, 1954, Hollywood (Los Angeles), CA; buried in Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Country of Origin/Citizenship

United States/American

Kind of Artist/Cultural Worker

Art Collector, Critic, Poet

Avant-Garde Movements Associated With

Dada Movement in New York

Date & Places of Overlap with Loy

New York, 1916-17, at the Arensberg’s duplex apartment
at 33 West Sixty-seventh Street

Walter Conrad Arensberg intermingled with and befriended some of the most important artists of the 20th century. He and his wife Louise played an integral role in the formation and promulgation of avant-garde ideas and activities in America. Born in 1878 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Arensberg was the oldest child of Conrad Christian Arensberg, president and partial owner of a successful crucible company. Walter Arensberg attended Harvard University majoring in English and philosophy. Following graduation, he travelled to Europe to live a “genuinely bohemian life-style” (Naumann 24). In 1903, he returned to Harvard, as a graduate student but did not complete his degree, moving instead to New York City to work as a cub reporter.

After marrying, Arensberg settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he and Louise purchased and renovated Shady Hill, the former home of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and later Charles Eliot Norton. There he pursued a career as a poet, stylistically emulating “late-nineteenth-century French Symbolism” (Naumann 24). Also during this period, Arensberg published his first volume of poetry, Poems (1914), and later Idols (1916) (Michelson 210). The financial backer for the little magazine Others, Arensberg teamed up with Marcel Duchamp to establish the, The Blind Man (1917), a little magazine that was meant to publicize the perspectives of the members of the Arensberg circle (Burke 230). In 1921, Arensberg published The Cryptography of Dante, and the next year The Cryptography of Shakespeare—seeking to interpret both authors through the analysis of puns, acrostics, and anagrams (Naumann). These publications contributed to avant-garde developments such as New York Dada, the Society of Independent Artists, and The Others Group of poets.

The Arensbergs opened their New York apartment to some of the most prominent avant-garde minds of the early 20th century, including Mina Loy (Burke 230). An active member of the Arensberg circle, Loy frequented the duplex at 33 West Sixty-Seventh Street to meet with an eccentric group of “expatriates and avant-gardist” from America and Europe (213). The setting provided a place for Loy to mingle with the likes of Marcel Duchamp, Alfred Kreymborg, and Louise Norton. Surrounded by the French perspective at these soirées allowed Loy to connect and adapt to a bi-lingual environment, which is reflected in her inventive use of a poetic “polygot language” (Prescott 172). Combining emotional support with artistic patronage, the Arensbergs provided a space for modernist conversation and thought that was much needed during WWI. However, by 1917, members of the Arensberg circle sought lives outside of New York (Burke 213).

Beginning their extensive modern art collection at The Armory Show in New York (1913) by purchasing an Edouard Vuillard lithograph, the Arensberg’s dedicated much of their time, energy, and Louise’s inheritance to amassing this seminal collection. Arensberg served as a board member of the Los Angeles Art Association (1937), Los Angeles County Museum (1938-1939), and the Southwest Museum (1944-1954). In addition, he was a founding board member of the short-lived American Arts in Action (1943) and the Modern Institute of Art, Beverly Hills (1947-1949). In 1937, Walter Arensberg organized the Francis Bacon Foundation; a non-profit educational and research institute dedicated to the study of its namesake. This foundation currently holds the Arensberg art collection in preservation at The Philadelphia Museum of Art (Naumann 24-25). In late 1921, upon Louise’s insistence, the couple relocated to Hollywood, California. They remained there for the rest of their lives, returning to New York for only a year between 1925 and 1926. Walter Conrad Arensberg passed away of a heart attack on January 29, 1954.

Works Cited

Burke, Carolyn. Becoming Modern: The Life of Mina Loy. 1st ed. ed., New York, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1996.


Michelson, Max. “Arensberg and the New Reality.” Poetry, vol. 8, no. 4, 1916, pp. 208–211.


JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/20570861.


Naumann, Francis M. New York Dada, 1915-23. (New York: Abrams, 1994).


Naumann, Francis. “Walter Conrad Arensberg: Poet, Patron, and Participant in the New York


Avant-Garde, 1915-20.” Philadelphia Museum of Art Bulletin, vol. 76, no. 328, 1980, pp. 3–32. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3795277.


Prescott, Tara. Poetic Salvage: Reading Mina Loy. Bucknell University Press, 2017.


Stewart, K B. “Walter Conrad Arensberg (1878-1954) – Find A…” Find A Grave, 25 Dec. 2013, www.findagrave.com/memorial/122163058/walter-conrad-arensberg.


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