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Works on Paper

Prints and Drawings

The National Gallery's collection of prints, drawings, and illustrated books consists of almost 100,000 Western European and American works on paper and vellum dating from the eleventh century to the present day. It began with just 400 prints donated in 1941 by five collectors: W. G. Russell Allen, Paul Sachs, Philip Hofer, Ellen Bullard, and Lessing J. Rosenwald. Their gifts of important works by Mantegna, Schongauer, Dürer, Canaletto, Blake, and a variety of other fine printmakers were intended to lay a strong foundation for a national collection that would enhance and complement the collections of painting and sculpture installed in the public galleries. The first sizable gifts of graphics, nearly 2,000 works, came the very next year with the donation of the entire collection of Joseph E. Widener, including an extraordinary array of French eighteenth-century prints, illustrated books, and related drawings.

Lessing Rosenwald ensured the future of the Gallery's graphics collection in 1943 by giving the museum his collection of some 8,000 old master and modern prints and drawings. In the ensuing thirty-six years he donated almost 14,000 more, supplemented by such fascinating technical materials as carved woodblocks and engraved copperplates. His collection brought to the Gallery the finest gathering in America of rare German woodcuts and engravings from the fifteenth century; comprehensive surveys of the prints and some select drawings by Dürer, Rembrandt, Nanteuil, Daumier, Whistler, and Cassatt; watercolors, drawings, prints, and engraved copperplates by Blake; and a collection of prints by early twentieth-century printmakers.

Through the generosity of literally hundreds of other benefactors great and small, the Gallery's collection of graphics has grown steadily and impressively over the years. The collection of old master and modern prints benefited from major gifts from R. Horace Gallatin, Addie Burr Clark, Rudolph Baumfeld, C.V.S. Roosevelt, and Mrs. Robert A. Hauslohner. The donation of the Samuel H. Kress Collection and the bequest of the Chester Dale Collection, both in 1963, added excellent French and Italian drawings and prints of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. More recently, a series of donations from Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon has further strengthened the nineteenth-century holdings. At the same time, the gift and bequest of Armand Hammer's drawing collection, several superb gifts from Robert and Clarice Smith, and gifts and promised gifts from the Woodner Family Collection have added dramatic peaks and important strengths to the collection of European old master drawings. The twentieth-century collection, too, has shown spectacular growth with the help of gifts from Jacob and Ruth Cole Kainen, Mr. and Mrs. Stanley Woodward, Mrs. Max Beckmann, Norma B. Marin and John Marin Jr., and the Mark Rothko Foundation. Through the founding of both the Gemini G.E.L. Archive at the National Gallery in 1981 and the Graphicstudio U.S.F. Archive in 1986, the Gallery has also become a leading repository of contemporary prints.

Since 1966, the Gallery has maintained an active presence in the prints and drawings market, using donated purchase funds to acquire individual works for the collection. Among the most significant purchases made to date are rare prints by Mantegna, Callot, Piranesi, and Munch, and exceptional drawings by Dürer, Carpaccio, Bruegel, Goltzius, Rubens, Castiglione, Watteau, Fragonard, and Picabia. Purchase funds have also enabled the Gallery to acquire whole collections through combination gift/purchase arrangements, including the American drawings collection of John Davis Hatch, the old master and modern drawings collection of Julius Held, and the library of rare books and architectural prints formed by Mark J. Millard. The most spectacular purchase of all, made in 1991, was the acquisition of two of the greatest old master drawings in America, a page from Giorgio Vasari's Libro de'Disegni and Benvenuto Cellini's Satyr, both from the Woodner Family Collection.

Since works on paper are highly susceptible to damage by overexposure to light, they can only be exhibited for short periods. For that reason, the Gallery maintains a schedule of changing exhibitions drawn from its own collection or borrowed from other institutions and private individuals. Works of graphic art that are not on display are divided between two storage facilities, with European art in the East Building and American art in the West Building. Both facilities are equipped with Study Rooms that are open by appointment to individuals as well as to classes and special groups.

Prints and Drawings

The Index of American Design consists of approximately 18,000 watercolor renderings of American decorative arts objects from the colonial period through the nineteenth century. Produced between 1935 and 1942, this visual archive reflects the expanding interest in American material culture that began to emerge at that time. The following tours of the Index of American Design also are available as free loan slide programs.

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Gemini G.E.L.: Online Catalogue Raisonne

n recent decades, American artists have discovered innovative forms for their work by exploring new concepts and materials. At the same time, by incorporating ideas from fields including philosophy, linguistics, and the performing arts, they have broadened our understanding of the nature of art objects. A growing number of artists have undertaken their investigations by making prints and sculpture in multiple original editions. These complex endeavors have often entailed the collaboration with specially skilled printers and other artisans to realize their aesthetic goals. Gemini G.E.L. (Graphic Editions Limited), a publishing workshop in Los Angeles, has been at the forefront of these exciting developments in contemporary art. Their groundbreaking creations include prints in lithography, etching, woodcut, and screenprint, often used in combination, as well as sculpture in diverse media.

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