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

Sylvester Rosa Koehler (1837-1900)
Curator of Graphic Arts 1886-1900

Although the Marsh Collection was acquired in 1849, the Smithsonian did not formally establish the Section of Graphic Arts until 1886. Curator S. R. Koehler, appointed at that time, served simultaneously as curator of prints for the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and commuted regularly by train between Boston and Washington. His knowledge of the art world and his personal contacts with artists resulted in many important collections coming to the U.S. National Museum. His health declined in the late 1890s, but he continued to advise and to collect on the Smithsonian's behalf until his death in 1900.

Koehler prepared the permanent graphic arts exhibition in the U.S. National Museum and produced traveling exhibitions as well. He developed the print collection to show the American public all the graphic processes then known, and how they had evolved from drawing through the new photomechanical processes. Art was presented as an industry in stages of work from the artist's original conception to the finished print, including printing plates, blocks, and tools. A knowledgeable scholar, Koehler also selected fine examples of each process, like the old master prints shown in this section.

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Pictures at the Exhibitions

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