The son of automobile magnate Walter Percy Chrysler and his wife, Delia B. Forker, Walter Chrysler, Jr. was a descendant of Tuenis Van Dolsen, the first male child born in New Amsterdam [now Manhattan], New York. Encouraged by his father, Walter Jr. began collecting at an early age. His sister, Bernice Chrysler, married Col. Edgar William Garbisch and with her husband amassed their famed collection of (mostly American) folk art.
Chrysler attended Dartmouth, and shortly there after went on a grand tour of Europe, where he met and began to acquire works by avant-garde artists. He also bought contemporary American artists and in a relatively short period of time had amassed one of the most important private collections in the United States.
Chrysler retired in 1956 to devote his time completely to the arts. In 1958 he founded the Chrysler Art Museum in Provincetown, Massachusetts, whose holdings quickly outgrew its home. In 1971 he moved the collection to Norfolk, VA where a museum bears his name.