Detail from The Canal, Amsterdam, 1889, James McNeill Whistler, The Hunterian, University of Glasgow


John Chandler Bancroft

Nationality: American
Date of birth: 1822.12.29
Place of birth: Worcester, MA
Date of death: 1907.12.07
Category: collector


John Chandler Bancroft was a politician, diplomat and collector, also known as Bancroft Davis. He was a son of John Davis (1787-1854), Governor of Massachusetts and Eliza Bancroft (1791-1872), both of Worcester, MA.


Bancroft read law at Harvard College, graduating A.B. in 1847. He became Secretary and chargé d'affaires at the American Legation in Britain, 1849-1852 and had a private practice in New York City, 1853-62. He served in various high state offices including Assistant Secretary of State 1869-71, 1873-74 and 1881-82; Secretary and U.S. agent, Joint High Commission, Geneva, Switzerland, 1871-73 and United States Minister to Germany, 1874-77. Bancroft was also the American correspondent for the London Times, 1854-62.

In 1901, the bequest of Bancroft's Japanese prints, including a complete set of Hiroshige's 53 Stations on the Tokaido, the Hoeido edition, established the Asian collection of Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, MA.

Bancroft was very friendly with Thomas Armstrong and George du Maurier whom he first met in Dusseldorf, 1859-60. Bancroft later went to Paris where he probably met Whistler, who knew Armstrong and du Maurier.

In 1891, Bancroft purchased several works by Whistler, including Arrangement in Black: Girl Reading y223 and Silver and Blue: Southampton m1142. He suggested Whistler paint his daughter Hester in June 1891, but this did not take place. In June 1892, Bancroft offered £600 for Dr John Cavafy's four Whistlers (The Last of Old Westminster y039, Battersea Reach y045, Variations in Flesh Colour and Green: The Balcony y056and Harmony in Blue and Silver: Trouville y064), which was rejected in favour of £650 offered by E.G. Kennedy of Wunderlich, New York dealers. Bancroft felt he had been treated unfairly by Whistler in this deal (see #11556).

Bancroft had other connections in the literary and artistic worlds: he shared lodgings with Henry James in Cambridge, MA, in 1862 and was in correspondence with Thomas Armstrong in 1896. He thought Whistler 'a great painter beyond question & can say & write a good thing on occasion but in daily life he is about as responsible and intelligent as a spoiled child of five' (Bancroft to George du Maurier, 29 August 1894, #11555).


Young, Andrew McLaren, Margaret F. MacDonald, Robin Spencer, and Hamish Miles, The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler, New Haven and London, 1980 .

Archives Directory for the History of Collecting in America, The Frick Collection.

'Bancrift Davis', Wikipedia.