Who's Clowes?

After a three-year, multi-million-dollar renovation of the Clowes Pavilion, the Clowes Collection has now returned to public view.  Named after its creator, Dr. George Henry Alexander Clowes, it remains the finest collection of Old Master paintings in Indiana and forms the nucleus of the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s permanent collection of European art.   

The Clowes name may be familiar to readers, as the family has supported numerous organizations around Indianapolis such as Clowes Memorial Hall at Butler University, the Indianapolis Public Library, The Orchard School, Trinity Episcopal Church, and Marian University. But who was Dr. Clowes, and how did he manage to assemble such a splendid art collection?   

Born in 1877 to a prosperous merchant family in Ipswich, England, about 80 miles northeast of London, Clowes studied chemistry at the Royal College of Science in London and at the University of Göttingen, Germany, where he earned his PhD in 1899. The following year he accepted a position across the Atlantic as a research chemist at the Gratwick Laboratory in Buffalo, New York (now known as Roswell Park Cancer Center). There, he pioneered new approaches to chemotherapy, demonstrating its potential as a cancer treatment method.  Clowes also met his future wife in Buffalo, Edith Whitehill Hinkel, the daughter of a prominent local doctor. The couple married in 1910 and eventually had three sons, Alexander, who died in early childhood from acute leukemia, George Jr., and Allen. 

In 1919, Clowes received an offer to join the staff of the Indianapolis-based pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly and Company, where he headed the newly established research division for the next 25 years. At the time, the company was beginning to develop new drugs for the U.S. market. Clowes, known to his colleagues as “Doc,” is best remembered for the commercial development of insulin, which revolutionized the treatment of diabetes and has saved millions of lives since its introduction a century ago. The success of insulin made Eli Lilly and Company a household name and Clowes a man of means, allowing him to indulge his passion for collecting art in the decades that followed. 

Though Clowes had little (if any) training in art history, his boundless energy and general enthusiasm for European art served him well. In restricting his acquisitions to works by the Old Masters (i.e., artists working between the Middle Ages and the year 1800), he followed the examples of other self-made American art collectors like his fellow Hoosier, the eminent writer Booth Tarkington. Paintings provided Clowes with particular joy: when a new picture arrived for his consideration, he would often set it at the foot of his bed to study it closely. He also relished the thrill of the hunt, pursuing great works of art with the same single-minded determination and precise, analytical frame of mind that made him so successful as a research scientist. Among the greatest treasures added to his collection in these years were Rembrandt’s youthful Self-Portrait, the Portrait of a Philosopher by the Spanish painter Jusepe de Ribera, an exquisite Flemish tapestry originally designed by Raphael, and a lively oil sketch by Peter Paul Rubens.  

Throughout his years as a collector, Clowes valued the opinion of his wife, Edith, whom he frequently consulted on questions of quality and display. On one occasion, the couple spent several hours arranging a set of photographs of panels from a German altarpiece in order to display them to their best advantage. Following his death in 1958, Edith and their younger son Allen continued adding significant works to the collection, including Jan Brueghel the Elder’s River Landscape and Claude Lorrain’s The Flight into Egypt. She later arranged for the collection to move from the family’s home to the Indianapolis Museum of Art, where she funded the construction of the Clowes Pavilion, later named in her honor.   

Now, 50 years after its inauguration, The Clowes Pavilion is once again open to the public, enthralling visitors anew with the marvelous collection housed there. The reinstallation will showcase a total of 90 objects spanning various times, places, cultures, and media. Their inclusion offers visitors a fresh perspective on significant social and historical themes. Several works of art are also accompanied by innovative and engaging interpretive elements. New to the Pavilion is a state-of-the-art digital LED ceiling in the courtyard evoking an outdoor space in the heart of the museum.  


The Clowes Pavilion Reimagined is made possible with support from Allen Whitehill Clowes Charitable Foundation and The Clowes Fund. 


The Clowes Family at Westerley before the Clowes Memorial Hall opening celebration, 1963. Archives, Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields.