sepia toned photo of Helen Dill from around 1875

Who is Helen Dill?

In 1932, the Denver Art Museum received an unexpected and extremely generous bequest from a Denver schoolteacher named Helen Dill. What was $100,000 at the time would equal around $1.65 million today, which was a truly transformative gift for the growing museum.

The majority of the funds were used to purchase some of the DAM’s most iconic works of art, including two Claude Monet landscapes, portraits by Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Giuseppe Arcimboldo, a western scene by Thomas Hart Benton, a Winslow Homer seascape, and works by Max Ernst, John Marin, Camille Pissarro, and others (see select images in slide show below).

At the Denver Art Museum, we have known Ms. Dill’s name and legacy for years, and have even named the museum’s Helen Dill Society in her honor, which recognizes current-day patrons who make planned gifts to the museum. But just this year, for the first time, we have learned what Helen Dill looks like and are finally able to put a face to the name.

sepia toned photo of Helen Dill from around 1875
Charles Bohm (American, born in Germany, 1846–1885), Portrait of Helen Lynch Dill, 1875-80. Gift of Caleb R. (Russ) Symons, Jr. and Paul Millette. 

This photograph was likely taken around the time of her 1875 marriage, but the reasons and the inscription on it remain a mystery. It reads, “Yours nevertheless, Nellie Lynch Dill.” We can only guess what she meant by this. What do you think?

As curator of photography Eric Paddock pointed out in last month’s member magazine, On & Off the Wall, “This small portrait of Helen Dill was discovered by Russ Symons, Jr., a one-time Denver resident who now lives in Vermont and trades in antiques. Something rang a bell when he saw the name written across the bottom of the mount; he contacted the DAM when he realized the picture’s significance, and we acted quickly to accept the photograph as a generous gift to our collection.”

The museum also has learned that Helen Lynch Dill was a savvy woman, ahead of her time. She convinced her father, who did not believe in education for women, to loan her money for teacher’s college and she repaid him later from her earnings.

She followed teaching opportunities out West to Denver and a few years later married of one of “the most eligible bachelors in the Colorado Territory,” newspaperman Captain Robert Gordon Dill. Their marriage ended in divorce a few years later (with the unclear claim that she deserted him), but not to worry! Helen more than took care of herself by continuing to work as a teacher and making real estate investments in another time of growth for the city that we can imagine today.

Continuing Helen Dill’s Legacy

The Helen Dill Society honors generous patrons who consider the Denver Art Museum in their estate plans, in the spirit of Helen Dill. Planned Giving can take many forms including a bequest, charitable gift annuity, retirement assets, or even making the DAM the beneficiary of a life insurance policy. Please be in touch with the development office at 720-913-0035 if you would like to learn more or let us know that you have already included the DAM in your estate plans.

Members of the Helen Dill Society enjoy an annual recognition event, private exhibition tours, and listing in our annual report. Thank you for considering this additional way to support the Denver Art Museum for future generations of art lovers!

Waterloo Bridge by Claude Monet

Claude Monet, Waterloo Bridge, Sunlight Effect (Effet de Soleil), 1903. Oil on canvas, 25 x 38-3/4 inches. Funds from the Helen Dill bequest, 1935.15

Claude Monet, Waterlilies or The Water Lily Pond (Nymphéas), 1904. Oil paint on canvas; 34 3/4 x 36 in. Denver Art Museum: Funds from Helen Dill bequest, 1935.14

Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Summer, 1572. Oil on canvas; 36 x 27-3/4 in. Denver Art Museum; funds from Helen Dill bequest, 1961.56.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Portrait of Edmond Renoir, 1888

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Portrait of Edmond Renoir, 1888. Oil on canvas. Funds from Helen Dill bequest, 1937.4

Mary Beth Polce is a major gifts officer in the development department at the Denver Art Museum. Mary Beth has been at the DAM since 2013 and her favorite exhibition that has been on view here is Spun: Adventures in Textiles.

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