The Pioneering Woman Who Built a Home for Art at USC

Elizabeth Holmes Fisher started from humble beginnings to become a renowned collector of the great masters.

October 04, 2017 Elisa Huang

Elizabeth Holmes Fisher, founder of the USC Fisher Museum of Art and the first woman elected to the USC Board of Trustees, had a humble start when she moved to Los Angeles. She and her husband arrived from South Dakota with $25 to their names.

Eventually a fortuitous investment in Long Beach oil wells made the couple a fortune, enabling her to fulfill a lifelong passion for art. Fisher became an avid collector and focused on 17th-century Dutch and Flemish work, 18th-century British portraiture and 19th-century American landscapes. A generous gift to USC in 1937 established a home for much of her collection: the USC Fisher Museum of Art.

The inset photo was taken about two decades after the museum’s 1939 founding, and just a few years after Fisher’s death in 1955. In all, Fisher donated 74 pieces to “help students and the public gain an appreciation of the works of great masters.”

Today the museum houses more than 1,800 objects spanning five centuries, including works by Winslow Homer, Gustave Courbet and Thomas Gainsborough. The museum takes part in the city-wide Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA through January 2018, with a spotlight on artist James hd Brown’s work in Mexico.