Category Archives: JamesJHill

James J. Hill at the Fair

..On September 3, 1906, Mary Hill wrote in her diary:

Clara, Rachel, Mary M. and I went with Papa to the State Fair where he delivered an address and dedicated the new Agricultural Building.  An immense crowd in attendance.  Such disorder and bad manners.


James J. Hill delivering address. Photo: Minnesota Historical Society.
James J. Hill delivering address. Photo: Minnesota Historical Society.

The address? The Nation’s Future. Hill begins, “The highest conception of a nation is that of a trustee for posterity…” The published version of the address is thirty pages long and sets forth the challenges faced by the United States moving forward through the twentieth century.

James and Mary Hill, 1915. Photo: Minnesota Historical Society.
James and Mary Hill, 1915. Photo: Minnesota Historical Society.

Hill discusses population growth, immigration, industry and agriculture. He explores how understanding personal responsibility and man’s relationship to the natural world can be tools for confronting what ails society. In addition, Hill proposes practical adjustments to the current systems to achieve prosperity and a strong nation.

Sections on crop rotation, soil deterioration and livestock management would have interested many in attendance at the opening of the new building. Hill spoke of the tremendous potential in agriculture and how innovation and careful planning would allow the farms of the United States to feed a projected 200 million citizens by 1950. (Hill was a little off – U.S. population in 1950 was 152.3 million.)

The final lines of the address are typical of the language throughout:

…the sober dignity with which a whole nation rises to the winning of its broad and permanent prosperity, will depend the individual well-being of millions of this and many generations. Largely by this method will posterity, our fit and righteous judge, determine whether what issues from the crucible of this twentieth century is a bit of rejected dross to be cast aside or a drop of golden metal to shine forever upon the rosary of the years.


Now, we don’t know whether the “disorder and bad manners” of which Mary writes refers to the crowd at her husband’s speech or at the Fair in general. Maybe they were just excited to see the new building. Certainly, such behavior would never be exhibited by today’s Fair-goers!

This is in the History section of the 2016 Minnesota State Fair Media Guide:
“110 Years • 1906 • James J. Hill dedicated the original Livestock Amphitheatre. It was also known as the Hippodrome. The Lee & Rose Warner Coliseum now stands in its place.” 
And for a little context, also in 1906, “Legendary pacer horse Dan Patch set the world record time of 1:55 for one mile at the Grandstand.”





Happy Anniversary MIA!


MIA-Springtime of Life
Springtime of Life, Camille Corot. Donated to MIA by Mrs. Erasmus C. Lindley in memory of her father, James J. Hill. 1949. Photo: Minneapolis Institute of Arts


by Eileen R. McCormack


 In 1913 when the Minneapolis Society of Fine Arts began planning for the construction of the present Minneapolis Institute of Arts [MIA] building, trustee and Saint Paul resident and art collector James J. Hill lent his expertise as a significant collector of works of the French Barbizon School.

MIA-Deer in the Forest
Deer in the Forest, Gustave Courbet. Donated to MIA by James J. Hill. 1914. Photo: Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

James Hill did not stop at giving advice. He presented the Society with its first great acquisition, Gustave Courbet’s Deer in the Forest,  When the MIA opened its doors to the public in January 1915, the majority of the art in the new building was on loan. Hill loaned twenty-two paintings by Courbet, Corot, Daubigny, Delacroix, Dupre, Millet, Rousseau and Troyon that were a significant part of the collection viewed by the public in the inaugural exhibition. On that 7th day of January in 1915, Hill’s  speech contained an injunction to:

Set your standard high and live to it. This Institute is to pitch the key for the community. Do not pitch the key too low.

JJH Audibert001
James J. Hill, Paul Raymond Audibert (1912)

James Hill began collecting art in 1880 and continued buying, selling and giving away paintings the rest of his life. He became very knowledgeable and certainly developed a particular fondness for artists of the Barbizon School. He purchased over thirty  paintings by Jacques Camille Corot and many by other Barbizon artists as well as a number of Barye bronze sculpture. His personal papers document his collection and contain inventories, invoices and correspondence with other collectors and his art dealers, Samuel Avery, Julius Oehme, Durand-Ruel family and Knoedler family.  By the turn of the 20th century Hill’s collection was considered the State’s finest and nationally significant. In 1891 a new home at 240 Summit Avenue in Saint Paul was completed and Hill and his family moved in. The home contained a large gallery so the art collection moved in as well. Hill’s collecting accelerated and the walls of the gallery, hallways and public rooms rapidly filled with paintings. The gallery, which had a separate exterior entrance, was open to the public on a limited basis. Application for admittance was made to Hill’s secretary and permission cards were issued for a specific day and time.

James Hill had his dealers resell paintings that he no longer liked. Hill explained:

I began in a modest way to make a collection. I bought a Rousseau, not a large one, fortunately for me a very good one. Then I bought a Corot, a small one. But these pictures were of first-class quality. [They] meant so much to me and so much more than about ten others which I had, that they literally drove the others out of the house, and where they went I do not know.”

And that is the how his collection evolved; he lived with, and loved, his paintings. They were his relaxation and his joy.

After the deaths of James Hill in 1916 and his wife Mary Hill in 1921, the collection’s art work was divided among their nine children. In the almost 100 years since their deaths, many of these pieces, and others from descendants’ personal collections, have a found permanent home at the MIA, including almost all the original loan by James J. Hill for the 1915 inaugural exhibition.



NOTE: James J. Hill quotes contained in The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin (1915). Image of James J. Hill from the Hill Family Collection, Minnesota Historical Society.

Visit for information on the special exhibits and events celebrating the 100th anniversary.