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

Two Early Collectors

Marsh and Cranch present two patterns of print collecting before the Civil War. Both men bought European engravings primarily, together with a few American prints. Certain prints are represented in both collections, and both include English, Flemish, and Italian engravings. Cranch held fewer examples from Northern Europe, and he owned no prints by Dürer or Rembrandt, two master printmakers often represented in collections formed during this period.

G. P. A. Healy
George Perkins Marsh
Marsh built his collection to illustrate progressive stages in the history of engraving. He purchased all of his prints in the United States before 1849, a remarkable effort for the time. He bought mainly from dealers in New York and their foreign agents. Fluent in several languages, he studied European collectors' manuals and bibliographic reference books to gain knowledge about what prints to buy. Although the prints that survive from his collection are not impressions of the highest quality, he did manage to acquire examples from many important printmakers. He did not travel abroad until after he sold the collection to the Smithsonian, at which time he visited the print cabinet at the Louvre in Paris and saw firsthand some superb old master prints.

John Cranch
As an artist, Cranch presumably acquired his collection for inspiration, although it served as a reminder of his student years in Italy. Like Cranch, most Americans who bought European prints in this period acquired them abroad. Cranch bought many engravings after Raphael's and Michelangelo's works--traditional sources for artists studying these giants of art history--that would not be available to him back home in any significant number. His diary mentions the purchase of a skeleton, and he owned engravings illustrating the muscles of the human body, presumably for anatomical reference in his portrait work. The collection also contains American portrait prints dating into the 1850s, suggesting that he acquired some contemporary work after his return to the United States.

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