Building a National Collection


Old Masters
in the
New World

Two Early Collectors

Pictures at the Exhibitions

The Artist as Collector

The Schoff Collection

The Ferris Collection

The Sloan Collection


The Curator as Collector

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Building a National Collection
150 Years of Print Collecting at the Smithsonian

Old Masters in the New World

Richard Earlom
A Fruit Piece, 1723
Hendrik Goltzius
Adoration of the Magi
Domenico Cunego
Raffaello Schiaminossi
Sibylla Hellespontica
Octave Leoni
Portrait of Thomas Salinus
Giuseppe Gherardi
View of Florence from the Boboli Garden
Michelangelo Maestri
Decorative panel from the chambers of Cardinal Bibbiena in the Vatican
In 1849 the Smithsonian's Board of Regents voted to purchase the first collection of prints to be acquired by an American public institution. The personal collection of Vermont Congressman George Perkins Marsh, one of the board's members, it included original prints by Dürer, Rembrandt, and other old masters, and many reproductive engravings after paintings. The purchase--some 1,300 items for $3,000--represented intelligently chosen prints not widely collected in this country at the time. As Assistant Secretary Charles Coffin Jewett stated in the Smithsonian Annual Report for 1850,

Engraving seems to be the only branch of the fine arts which we can, for the present, cultivate. One good picture or statue would cost more than a large collection of prints. The formation of a gallery of the best paintings, is, in this country, almost hopeless. . . . It can hardly be doubted, that in no way, could this Institution for the present do so much for every department of the fine arts, without injury to other objects of its care, as by procuring a collection of engravings, so full and so well chosen as that which now adorns its Library.

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