Explore Art \\ Collection

European Art

Reflecting PEM's long history, our diverse holdings of European art foster connections across the museum.

PEM’s diverse holdings of European art reflect the unusual nature of the institution’s long history. The collection, comprising important works from the East India Marine Society and the Essex Institute, helps tell the story of early European settlers in and around Salem.

Although European art was not the primary focus of the East India Marine Society’s early collecting efforts, the society displayed European art from its inception in 1799. Their carefully selected acquisitions illustrate Salem’s early prominence as a cultural and trade capital. These early objects included functional decorative arts such as glass wall sconces and chandeliers that lit East India Marine Hall, and a treasured early 16th-century carved rosary prayer bead donated in 1806 by Elias Hasket Derby Jr., son of one of the country’s wealthiest citizens.

From its founding, the Essex Institute collected relics brought to the region by European settlers, as well as decorative arts — including British and French textiles, English silver, Liverpool and Staffordshire earthenware, Dutch delftware and English and Irish glassware — transported by ships from Europe to local consumers.

Explore some highlights from the collection

More recent endeavors to acquire European art strive to enrich other areas of the museum’s collections. Enhancing our important holdings of Indian and Chinese art are works by European painters who, beginning in the eighteenth century, ventured to Asia in search of local and international patrons. Among them was the Flemish painter Frans Balthazar Solvyns, who worked in Calcutta (Kolkata), India, for more than a decade in the 1790s. PEM’s vast collection of European prints includes many of the etchings Solvyns made during this time. English artist George Chinnery painted diverse patrons in India, later moving to China, where he established a thriving practice in Macau. The museum’s holdings of Chinnery’s paintings — comprising thirteen oil paintings, including his portrait of Salem native Harriett Low, and over three hundred watercolors — form one of the most important repositories for his work.

A luxurious side chair from the Normandie enriches the museum’s already strong collection of material related to ocean liners, while contemporary artist Bouke de Vries’s Homeland, Blue and White connects to our important holdings of Asian export art. By combining shards of Dutch delftware with pieces of Chinese and Japanese porcelain, De Vries underscores the central role of ceramics in Dutch self-identity and references his homeland’s historic engagement with Asia. Like De Vries’s sculpture, PEM’s European art collection may appear fragmented, but it fosters compelling connections throughout the museum — across mediums, regions, and time.

We invite you to search our collection database to explore thousands of outstanding works of art and culture that engage the mind and the spirit.

Search our collection

Learn more about the nation’s oldest collecting museum in the Peabody Essex Museum Guide. Available for purchase in the PEM Shop.

Purchase the book
Related \\ Connected

Overseer donates major ocean-liner collection to PEM

Related \\ Connected

The comfort of our collection

Related \\ Connected

PEMcast Episode 13: #newPEM