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Drawings and Prints

Drawings and Prints

The Museum's collection of drawings and prints—one of the most comprehensive and distinguished of its kind in the world—began with a gift of 670 works from Cornelius Vanderbilt, a Museum trustee, in 1880. Today, its vast holdings, notable for an exceptional breadth and depth, comprise more than seventeen thousand drawings, 1.2 million prints, and twelve thousand illustrated books created in Western Europe and America, principally from the fifteenth century to the present.

Italian Old Master drawings, an early focus of collecting activity, form one of the strengths of the department. All the major schools—Florence, Rome, Naples, Parma, Bologna, Venice, Lombardy, Genoa—are richly represented. Important examples by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian, Andrea del Sarto, Bronzino, Barocci, Annibale Carracci, Domenichino, Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione, and Piranesi are among the highlights, as are the significant concentrations of drawings by, among others, Giulio Romano, Parmigianino, Pietro da Cortona, and Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. Though smaller, the representation of Spanish draftsmanship is also of note, particularly an album of fifty drawings by Goya. The rich collection of Italian Old Master prints is particularly strong in Renaissance engravings by such artists as Andrea Mantegna, Marcantonio Raimondi, and Giorgio Ghisi. With numerous works by the great master etchers of the eighteenth century, most notably Canaletto, Giovanni Battista and Domenico Tiepolo, and Giovanni Battista Piranesi, that period is also exceptionally well represented.

The department also has a sizeable and distinguished collection of French drawings, which includes notable early sheets by Jean Fouquet and Jean Cousin the Elder, and fine examples by the leading figures of the French Baroque—from Philippe de Champaigne and Simon Vouet, working in Paris, to Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin, working in Rome. Highlights of the Rococo period include strong holdings of Antoine Watteau, François Boucher, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, and Hubert Robert. The Neoclassical period has been built up in recent years with major examples by Jacques-Louis David and others of his generation. In the area of Old Master prints, the French holdings are broad and deep, with a strong representation of the work of both peintres graveurs and professional printmakers, including the innovative color prints of the eighteenth century. French nineteenth-century drawings and prints form another considerable strength of the department. Highlights here include Conté crayon drawings by Seurat, monotypes by Degas, works of various media by Gauguin, and watercolors by Daumier.

Important drawings by Northern European masters, including Albrecht Altdorfer, Albrecht Dürer, Peter Paul Rubens, and Rembrandt—part of the early, core holdings of the department—have been systematically supplemented by acquisitions representing (with different degrees of emphasis) the schools of Flanders, Holland, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. Among the notable recent additions to this part the collection are rare studies by Lucas van Leiden and Urs Graf. The department's holdings in the field of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century drawings from German-speaking and Scandinavian countries are also considerable, with singular works by such artists as Caspar David Friedrich as well as important groups of landscapes, figure studies, and designs for paintings.

Dutch, Flemish, and German prints form another notable strength of the department's holdings. Among the highlights are the fifteenth-century Northern European prints and books, including a world-class group of German woodcuts and metalcuts, many of which are rare or unique. The collection is also strong in German books from this period, including a fine group of herbals. Rich concentrations of prints by Martin Schongauer, Albrecht Dürer and his school, Hendrick Goltzius and his circle, and Rembrandt van Rijn round out this part of the collection.

British drawings in the collection date from the seventeenth through the early twentieth centuries and include notable works by Joseph Wright of Derby, Thomas Gainsborough, George Romney, John Robert Cozens, John Flaxman, Thomas Girtin, Joseph Mallord William Turner, Richard Parkes Bonington, Sir David Wilkie, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and Sir Edward Burne-Jones. William Blake is represented as a watercolorist and printmaker and Thomas Rowlandson by more than two thousand printed satires, the largest group outside Great Britain. Architectural and ornament designs include fine examples by Thomas Chippendale, Sir William Chambers, and Christopher Dresser. American works include a comprehensive collection of etchings and lithographs by James McNeill Whistler as well as color aquatints by Mary Cassatt. The department also houses a notable group of New York views, architectural designs by Alexander Jackson Davis, and carriage designs and working drawings by Brewster & Company of New York.

Significant concentrations of modern and contemporary prints representing artists from the United States, Europe, England, and Mexico are a further part of the department's holdings. American graphic art of the pre-war period is well represented with near comprehensive collections of prints by John Sloan, John Marin, Edward Hopper, and Reginald Marsh. The post-war period is also very strong with first-rate holdings of prints by Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, and Roy Lichtenstein, to name a few. The collection holds fine examples of printed works by Matisse and more than four hundred prints by Picasso with particular emphasis on his linocuts from the 1960s. While traditional techniques such as woodcut, etching, lithography, and screenprint form the core of the collection, newer examples of digital processes are also present.

Ornament drawings and prints, architectural prints and books, and nineteenth-century costume plates constitute further, significant components of the department's holdings, as does the group of more than three hundred printing plates, woodblocks, and lithographic stones from all periods. Finally, the rich collection of ephemera tells a history of popular printmaking in the United States from the early nineteenth through the mid-twentieth centuries. From posters to handbills to trade cards, and from personal memorabilia to printed advertisements, ephemera represent the common printed matter of the day, objects not meant to last.

Because of their fragile nature and susceptibility to fading, drawings and prints can only be exhibited intermittently and for short periods of time (approximately three months) under carefully controlled, low-lighting conditions. Works of art not hanging in the galleries may be viewed, by appointment, in the Study Rooms for Drawings and Prints.

View highlights

Exhibition Tour—The Pre-Raphaelite Legacy: British Art and Design
September 6, 2014
Free with Museum admission, though tickets are required
Exhibition Tour—The Pre-Raphaelite Legacy: British Art and Design
September 19, 2014
Free with Museum admission, though tickets are required
Looking at Drawings and Prints: Selections from the Permanent Collection
September 20, 2014
Free with Museum admission

Last updated: Thursday, August 28