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Humanities and Social Sciences Library > Collections > Print Collection > Recent Acquisitions: Old Master Prints


Assessing the Print Collection in 1909, the Library’s first Curator of Prints, Frank Weitenkampf, concluded that it was “fairly strong in modern work” but “very weak in old prints.” To address his concerns the Library raised $20,000 from institutional funds and private contributions for the purchase of Old Master prints. This sum was entrusted to Junius S. Morgan, J. Pierpont Morgan’s nephew and adviser on art and rare books. On a shopping expedition to Europe in 1909, Morgan bought for the Library some fifteen hundred German, Netherlandish, French, and Italian prints dating from the 15th to the 17th century, including the work of artists from Aldegrever to Rubens.

Weitenkampf and subsequent curators have continued to add Old Master prints to the Print Collection. This exhibition presents a selection of acquisitions, made over the past five years, of prints from the late 15th through the early 19th century that build on existing strengths and address gaps in the collection. Dutch etchings after Bruegel and by Jan van de Velde, Roelant Savery, and Simon de Vlieger afford a more comprehensive survey of the changing representation of the indigenous landscape, already outlined by the Library’s previous holdings of Netherlandish 16th- and 17th-century landscape prints. The Library’s extensive collection of early lithographs until now lacked prints by two important German painter-lithographers, Johann Anton Ramboux and Ferdinand Olivier. French color prints from the 18th century had heretofore been slighted, and the acquisition of color prints by Philibert-Louis Debucourt, Jean-François Janinet, and Jean-Baptiste Chapuy begins to address that gap. Other additions to the collection explore the relationship between artist and printmaking process: Giulio Bonasone in 16th-century Italy grasped the autographic and spontaneous nature of etching, and Roelant Savery in early 17th-century Holland passed that discovery on to other artists. The evolution of aquatint is now better documented through suites of prints by Jean-Baptiste Le Prince and the Abbé de Saint-Non. William Pether and Johann Jakob Haid brilliantly realized the drama inherent in mezzotint, represented until now primarily by a substantial survey of British late 17th- and 18th-century mezzotint portraits.

Not only do the prints on view strengthen the Library’s Print Collection, the most accessible in New York City, but each acquisition represents careful consideration of the print’s quality and condition to fully capture the varieties of line, texture, and tone offered by various printmaking processes in the service of the artist’s vision.

Roberta Waddell
Curator of Prints, The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs

This exhibition has been made possible by the continuing generosity of Miriam and Ira D. Wallach.

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