Art collector and patron. Also a suffragist. With her husband, Henry O. Havemeyer (1847–1907), also a collector and patron as well as a businessman, she amassed a stellar collection of old master and nineteenth-century paintings, particularly notable for its representation of modern French artists. Through donation and bequest, many of these numbered among the more than two thousand Havemeyer art objects given to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A native New Yorker, Louisine Waldron Elder began making adventurous art purchases as a young woman in Paris. Guided by the expertise of her friend Mary Cassatt, in 1875 she bought her initial contemporary works—a Degas pastel and the first Monet painting to enter an American collection. After marriage in 1883, she took the lead in acquiring the finest collection in the United States of contemporary French painting, including work by Gustave Courbet, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Jean-François Millet, Manet, Cassatt, and Cézanne. The Havemeyers also owned choice examples of work by Rembrandt, Goya, and other masters, including El Greco, then an underappreciated artist. Particularly after about 1910, she campaigned ardently for women's right to vote. She died in New York. Written around 1917, Sixteen to Sixty: Memoirs of a Collector was published in 1961. Also born in New York, her wealthy husband (familiarly known as Harry) worked in his family's sugar business. As a collector, he was drawn particularly to old masters and to Japanese and Chinese decorative arts, but through his wife he developed an appreciation for impressionism. They agreed jointly on all purchases, which they displayed throughout the home they completed in 1892. Louis Comfort Tiffany and Samuel Colman designed its sumptuous and sophisticated interiors. (Colman also masterminded the interior decor of their Connecticut country house, finished in 1890.) By the time Henry died in New York, his refineries produced nearly half the sugar used in the United States.
Their daughter, art collector Electra Havemeyer Webb (1888–1960), in 1947 founded Vermont's Shelburne Museum, which opened to the public five years later. A leading repository of American material culture, the eclectic assemblage reflects her passion for American crafts, vernacular art, and architecture. Born in Babylon, New York, on Long Island, before she turned twenty she was collecting Americana, exercising an independent taste that her parents did not understand. After marriage in 1910 to insurance executive and sportsman James Watson Webb, the couple traveled often and shuttled between several residences, including a huge Webb family estate on Lake Champlain at Shelburne. She also interested herself in civic causes. She died in a hospital in Burlington, not far from Shelburne. Situated on forty acres, the museum includes among its unconventional exhibits a covered bridge, a steamboat, a lighthouse, and more than twenty other nineteenth-century American structures, as well as significant collections of utilitarian objects such as sleighs and carriages, toys, weathervanes and whirligigs, quilts, trade signs, and cigar store figures. The Shelburne's collection includes also hundreds of paintings and sculptures by artists who worked outside the fine art mainstream. In addition, a large gallery devoted primarily to her family inheritance displays old master, American, and French impressionist paintings, along with European and Asian decorative arts.