POUGHKEEPSIE, NY – Its impressive collection of 17,000 works of art has been more than 140 years in the making. Now, the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center is finally getting its own handy guidebook.
The widely respected Prestel Museum Guide series has just published the new book The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College: The History and the Collection. This makes the Art Center the first U.S. art museum and the only U.S. college or university museum to have its own Prestel Guide. Prestel Publishing is a world leader in the fields of art, architecture, photography, design, cultural history, and ethnography – spanning such important museums as the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford, the Alte Pinokothek in Munich, and Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris – and its guides are sold around the world.
The Lehman Loeb Art Center's collection charts the history of art from antiquity to the present, including paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs, and glass and ceramic wares. Choosing 90 to highlight in the Prestel guide, from the thousands of significant works, was no easy task for director James Mundy, and the museum's curators.
"The works were chosen to reflect the range and quality of the collection," said Mundy. "So, they are the 'greatest hits' but across all chronological periods, media, and cultures."
Among the pieces featured are an Egyptian sculpture in red granite, Head of Viceroy Merymose from His Outer Sarcophagus (Dynasty 18, Period of Amenhotep III), c. 1375 B.C.; Pieter Claez’s Still Life With Food and Drink, c. 1640; Frederick Church’s Autumn in North America, 1856; Marsden Hartley’s Indian Composition, 1914-15, which is featured on the cover of the guidebook; Francis Bacon’s Study for Portrait IV (1953), one of the artist’s paintings after Velázquez’s portrait of Pope Innocent X; and Vassar’s first Cubist painting by Pablo Picasso, Glass, Guitar and Musical Score (winter 1922-23), given in 2005 by Virginia Herrick Deknatel, Vassar class of 1929, in honor of Frances Daly Fergusson, now Vassar’s President Emerita.
A SHORT HISTORY OF THE VASSAR COLLEGE ART COLLECTION
The original Vassar College Art Gallery, the precursor to the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, was founded as an original part of the college in 1864, making it the first college or university to open with an art museum as an integral part of the academic program. Matthew Vassar, a transplanted Englishman, brewer and businessman, was convinced that his college should have an active component of instruction in the visual arts. A gallery was part of architect James Renwick's plan for the college from the outset in 1861. Through a donation from Vassar, the art gallery started out with an important group of Hudson River School paintings, as well as a significant body of 19th-century British watercolors and drawings.
The next step forward for the collection came in the early 20th century. Charles Pratt, who gave the funds for Taylor Hall, Vassar's first building dedicated to the Art Gallery, also donated a collection of Italian panel paintings from the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries, as well as some remarkable American paintings and a large collection of Asian art.
Vassar's collection of works on paper was the next to grow. The Felix Warburg donation of 1941 brought the museum its impressive group of Old Master prints, including major works by Albrecht Dürer and Rembrandt.
Great works of 20th century European and American art began to enter the collection in the 1970s, most notably through donations made by Vassar alumna Blanchette Hooker Rockefeller, who was for many years a leading trustee of The Museum of Modern Art. Rockefeller's gifts to Vassar included paintings by Francis Bacon, Mark Rothko, and Agnes Martin. In the early 1990s came the bulk of Vassar's outstanding modernist collection, through gifts from alumna Catherine Sanford Deutsch: important works by Joan Miró, Jackson Pollock, Arshile Gorky, Balthus, de Kooning, and others.
"Those were the four or five big moments of collecting for us," Mundy said. "They each allowed Vassar to switch its attention and develop new areas of strength."
Augmenting the donations have been Vassar's occasional strategic purchases of artworks. "We can't outbid people," Mundy noted, "so we have to rely on the curatorial expertise of the Vassar faculty and Art Center staff, and buy in ways that aren't obvious to the market."
OPENING OF THE FRANCES LEHMAN LOEB ART CENTER BEGINS MAJOR NEW PHASE FOR THE VASSAR COLLECTION
When James Mundy arrived in 1991 to lead the opening of the Art Center (he has been its sole director, and had been the chief curator at the Milwaukee Art Museum), the Vassar collection consisted of approximately 12,500 works – compared to 17,000 today. When the new museum opened its doors in 1993, it significantly expanded Vassar's ability to exhibit and store more of the finest quality art for students, faculty, and the community. At any given time, the Permanent Collection Galleries of the Art Center feature approximately 350 works from Vassar's extensive collections.
Importantly, Mundy points out, the high quality of the Lehman Loeb Art Center's collection – as well as its manageable size – gives visitors a true "jewel box" experience of the art. "There are very few museums where you feel more refreshed going out than you did coming in," he said, crediting architect Cesar Pelli for his approach to the 36,400-square-foot facility. "It is small in scale, but beautifully designed, and the collection looks terrific in it."
- The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center Vassar College: The History and the Collection, Prestel Publishing
- Pages: 144
- Available through a variety of outlets, including the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, the Vassar College Bookstore (http://vassar.bkstore.com/, 845-437-5857), and Prestel Publishing (www.prestel.com).
Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential liberal arts college founded in 1861.