With the Hoblitzelle Foundation's donation of 550 pieces of 18th-century British silver in 1987, the Dallas Museum of Art became one of the most prominent collections of this material in the United States. This magnificent act of generosity also included a gift of thirty-eight Old Master European paintings and nine 19th-century American paintings. The gift is a tribute, in a way, to Karl Hoblitzelle's devotion to the Museum from 1929 to 1966, when he was a trustee. Karl Hoblitzelle (1879-1967), originally from St. Louis, established Dallas business connections in 1905, when he founded the interstate Amusement Company, which owned and operated a string of vaudeville houses and movie palaces throughout much of Texas. His business interests later branched into the booming oil and gas, real estate, and banking industries. In 1920 he married Esther Thomas, who, under the stage name Esther Walker (1894-1943), had pursued a career as a singer and actress in New York. After their wedding, the couple made Dallas their permanent home. In 1937 Karl Hoblitzelle placed on extended loan to the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts a group of forty-three paintings. Esther and Karl Hoblitzelle establisahed the Hoblitzelle Foundation to help support "charitable, scientific, literary, or educational efforts," primarily in the Dallas area. When Esther died prematurely in 1943, the bulk of her estate went to the foundation, which also received most of Karl's estate after his death in 1967. The paintings, which became the property of the Hoblitzelle Foundation, remained on loan to the Dallas Museum for fifty years. In a characteristic gesture, in 1985 the foundation presented a loan of many of the finest works of silver from the Hoblitzelle estate to complement the Museum's recent gifts of the Wendy and Emery Reves Collection and the Faith P. and Charles L. Bybee Collection of 18th- and early 19th-century American furniture. Together, these works of art catalyzed the Dallas Museum of Art's burgeoning reputation as an important center for decorative arts.
Under the aegis of Robert Lynn Harris, Executive Vice-President and Grant Coordinator of the Hoblitzelle Foundation, the Hoblitzelle art collections were given to the Museum in 1987. Harris had known the Hoblitzelles well, having worked as Karl's private secretary and personal assistant before becoming a Board member of the foundation (he began his working life as an usher at a Dallas theater owned by Hoblitzelle during the 1920s). He explained the unique character of the Hoblitzelle silver collection: "The silver was not assembled as a collection per se; they simply bought things to enjoy in their home and their good taste led them to the better craftsmen." The Hoblitzelles were famous for giving elegant dinner parties, and they purchased their enormous collection of silver not as a museum curator might, but rather to use and enjoy in their home with their guests. (Their sumptuous style of entertaining later inspired the Museum's annual Silver Supper celebration, which benefits the Decorative Arts Discretionary Endowment Fund.)
The Hoblitzelle's actual use of their silver collection recalls the manner of appreciation that would have characterized the original owners of these objects. Eighteenth-century silver was prized in Great Britain not only for its aesthetic attraction and the inherent value of the material itself but also for its practical—if supremely elegant—everyday utility. It was with this in mind that the Hoblitzelles assembled their magnificent collection of 18th-century British silver.
The diversity of styles and the exceptional quality of a number of individual pieces rank this silver collection among the finest in the country. The collection includes 334 pieces of flatware and 200 pieces of hollowware dating from the late 17th through the early 19th centuries. Works by many of the finest London silversmiths from that era are featured, including Paul Storr, Paul de Lamerie, Hester Bateman, Francis Butty, Nicholas Dumee, Daniel Smith, Robert Sharp, and Emick Romer. One should not underestimate, however, the importance of the Hoblitzelle Foundation's gift of Old Master paintings, which includes several of the most prominent 17th-century works in the Museum's European collection. Chief among these are Pietro Paolini's Bacchic Concert (1625-1630, 1987.17) and Portrait of a Gentleman (1648-1649, 1987.25) by Michael Sweerts. These and other works from the Hoblitzelle gift remain mainstays of the Museum's early European holdings.
I. Cooperation: A Newsletter for Members of the Conference of Southwestern Foundations (August 1987): 5.
Carl Wuellner, “The Hoblitzelle Foundation,” in Dallas Museum of Art, 100 Years , ed. Dorothy M. Kosinski (Dallas, TX: Dallas Museum of Art, 2003), Pamphlet number 60.