New York art patron and collector of French and American art Chester Dale (1883-1962), made his fortune as a banker who pioneered the sale of public utility securities. He began purchasing French paintings in the mid-1920s and retired from the investment security business in 1935 in order to focus full time on the acquisition of art.
Dale was encouraged to begin collecting art by his first wife, Maud Dale, who was an artist, a writer, and a former chairman of the Exhibition Committee of the Museum of French Art. With the benefit of his wife's knowledge, passion, and perception, Dale began to lay the foundation of his collection in 1926, and amassed circa seven hundred pictures within ten years. His collection is considered to be one of the most complete collections of nineteenth and twentieth century French art in the world, and includes some of the finest examples of works by Braque, Corot, Delacroix, Degas, Derain, Dufy, Leger, Matisse, and Renoir, as well as by artists representative of the French tradition in art including Modigliani, Picasso, Rivera, and Van Gogh.
Although primarily interested in French art, Dale also collected and encouraged American artists. He was a patron of George Bellows and Salvador Dali, and had his portrait painted by both artists. Dale presented the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Gallery of Art with their first Dali paintings, the latter being The Sacrament of the Last Supper. Dale also purchased works by Mary Cassatt, representative works by "the Eight," and examples of eighteenth century American portraitists John Smibert, Gilbert Stuart and Thomas Sully. In the early 1940s he visited Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Mexico, and Rivera subsequently completed a portrait of Dale in 1945.
Dale served as a trustee to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Chicago Art Institute, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. He made the first of a series of gifts to the National Gallery of Art when it opened in 1941. In 1955 he was elected president of the museum, by which time his collection occupied ten of its galleries. Dale bequeathed the bulk of his remaining collection to the National Gallery in his will. This final gift included eighty of his favorite pictures, which had been located in his Manhattan apartment at the Plaza Hotel up until his death.
A year after the death of Maud Dale in 1953, Dale married Mary Towar Bullard, whom he had employed as his secretary for twenty-five years. Mary Dale oversaw the disbursement of her husband's estate, following Dale's death from a heart attack in 1962.