Historic Collections: The James and Marilynn Alsdorf Collection

Learn more about James and Marilynn Alsdorf, prolific collectors of Asian art and significant donors to the Art Institute of Chicago's collection.


The private collection of Marilynn and the late James Alsdorf contains hundreds of works of art representing the rich and diverse cultures of India, the Himalayas, and Southeast Asia. The Alsdorfs acquired their works over many years of travel and penetrating study. Both natives of Illinois, the Alsdorfs started collecting in the 1950s, beginning with 20th-century art and quickly branching into other areas, including Greek and Roman, Egyptian, medieval European, and Islamic art.

They both enjoyed Chinese art as well, but in the 1950s and 1960s no direct contact was possible between the United States and China. Partly for this reason they turned to India, as did other collectors of Asian art. Mrs. Alsdorf has also said that she and her husband, whose father was born in Batavia (present-day Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia), found Indian sculpture appealing because, unlike ancient sculpture, its cultural and religious context is still flourishing.

A selection of more than 200 of the Alsdorfs' works was displayed in the 1997 Art Institute exhibition A Collecting Odyssey: Indian, Himalayan, and Southeast Asian Art from the James and Marilynn Alsdorf Collection. The Alsdorfs have donated or loaned more than 700 works to the Art Institute since 1954, acts that demonstrate only part of their commitment to the institution. Mrs. Alsdorf, who studied at the School of the Art Institute, is a past president and current member of the Woman's Board. Mr. Alsdorf was chairman of the Board of Trustees from 1975 to 1978.