In 1880 Cornelius Vanderbilt presented to the Metropolitan Museum 670 drawings by or attributed to European Old Masters. In its early decades, the collection of drawings grew slowly through purchase, gift, and bequest. Among notable acquisitions of this period were major drawings by Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and Rembrandt. In 1935, the Museum purchased an album of 50 sheets by Goya, while more than 100 works, mostly by Venetian artists of the 18th century, were acquired from the marquis de Biron in 1937. It was not until 1960 that the Department of Drawings was established as a separate curatorial area of the Museum with Jacob Bean as its first curator. During the next 30 years, the department's holdings nearly doubled in size; the collection is known particularly for its works by Italian and French artists of the 15th through the 19th century.
The Department of Prints was established in 1916 and developed rapidly into one of the world's most encyclopedic repositories of printed images under the guidance of its first curator, William M. Ivins, Jr., who attracted remarkable gifts and bequests to the Museum: Dürer prints from Junius Spencer Morgan; Gothic woodcuts and late Rembrandt etchings from Felix M. Warburg and his family; and Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Degas, and Cassatt prints from the H. O. Havemeyer collection. The collection continued to expand under the leadership of later curators: A. Hyatt Mayor, John McKendry, and Colta Ives. It is rich in 15th-century German, 18th-century Italian, and 19th-century French images. Within the department's scope are also more than 12,000 illustrated books and a comprehensive collection of designs for architecture and the decorative arts.
The Department of Drawings and Prints was created in October 1993, under the chairmanship of George Goldner, uniting the greater part of the Museum's varied and extensive collections of graphic art. The department maintains a rotating installation of its holdings in the Robert Wood Johnson Jr. Gallery, and its Study Room is open to scholars by appointment.
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