Sunday, June 1, 2008


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.

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