The Timken Museum of Art owes its existence to the combined efforts and generosity of two families: the prominent Timken family from Canton, Ohio, and Anne and Amy Putnam who arrived in San Diego in the early 1900s from Vermont, accompanied by their elderly parents and preceded by their uncle, Henry Putnam, who retired in San Diego in 1898.
The Putnam sisters spent decades acquiring European old master paintings. Initial paintings from the sisters' collection were donated to San Diego's Fine Arts Gallery (now the San Diego Museum of Art). Their later acquisitions were loaned to prestigious museums around the country until the Timken opened in 1965.
In 1951, with the assistance of longtime friend and advisor Walter Ames, the Putnam sisters established the nonprofit Putnam Foundation, under which their artworks became designated as the Putnam Foundation Collection. In accordance with the sisters’ wishes, the Putnam Foundation continued to purchase paintings of high quality. The paintings that were acquired from 1951-1956 form the core of the European collection, as it is known today.
In an effort to secure the Putnam Foundation Collection for San Diego, Ames secured financial support from the Ohio-based Timken family of the Timken roller bearing fame to help build a new gallery for San Diego. The institution first opened its doors to the public in October 1965. The institution was named the Timken Art Gallery (now the Timken Museum of Art) because of the very generous contributions the Timken family had made to the cultural life of San Diego.
In the years between the Foundation's establishment and the opening of the museum, the Putnam Foundation Collection paintings remained on loan to institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the National Gallery in Washington, DC, and Harvard University's Fogg Art Museum. In 1965, the paintings were reunited, and hung in their new permanent quarters at the Timken. Located on the Prado in San Diego's beautiful Balboa Park, the museum displays more than 60 extraordinary artworks, predominantly paintings augmented by a small holding of sculpture and decorative art objects.
The works in the Putnam Foundation Collection are primarily in three distinct areas: European old master paintings, 18th and 19th-century American art, and Russian icons. Each collection boasts unique and priceless representations of the specific genre. Notable works in the collection include Rembrandt's Saint Bartholomew (the only painting by the Dutch artist on public display in San Diego); Pieter Bruegel the Elder's Parable of the Sower; John Singleton Copley's Portrait of Mrs. Thomas Gage; Eastman Johnson's classic The Cranberry Harvest, Island of Nantucket; and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot's View of Volterra.
The Timken is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 AM to 4:30 PM, and Sunday from noon to 4:30 PM. The museum is closed Monday. Admission is always free.