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History

Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss initiated the museum collections in the first half of the twentieth century and provided the vision for future acquisitions after giving Dumbarton Oaks to Harvard University in 1940.

Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss were enthusiastic collectors and judicious patrons of scholarship and the arts. A graduate of Harvard University, Robert Bliss (1875–1962) pursued a distinguished career as an officer and diplomat in the Foreign Service. Mildred Bliss (1879–1969) inherited a fortune from her family's investment in the patent medicine Fletcher's Castoria. Sharing a taste in the art of little-known or under-appreciated cultures, the Blisses developed unique collections with the help of knowledgeable friends and scholarly advisors. They envisioned Dumbarton Oaks as a home of the Humanities, a place of natural serenity and intellectual adventure.

The Byzantine Collection opened to the public in 1940. The Music Room, built in 1928, displays works of art of the so-called House Collection, and the Pre-Columbian Collection was installed in 1963 in a wing added to the existing buildings and designed by Philip Johnson.

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