The MFAH has received important works of graphic art since its inception, but it was not until 1991 under the directorship of Peter C. Marzio, a former print curator, that the museum formalized its collection with the founding of the Department of Prints and Drawings. Focusing almost exclusively on art after the Middle Ages in Western Europe and North America, this encyclopedic collection comprises more than 8,600 objects including drawings, watercolors, pastels, collages, paintings on paper, books and manuscripts, and prints and printing equipment.
With the completion of the Audrey Jones Beck Building in 2000, the museum opened the Works on Paper Study Center, the most state-of-the-art study room and storage facility for works on paper in the American Southwest. The department mounts exhibitions based on its own permanent collection and on other public and private collections (Past Exhibitions). Because works on paper are sensitive to light and climate conditions, these exhibitions are on display for only a few months at a time. Most of the works not on display may be examined in the Works on Paper Study Center, by appointment.
Encountering the Absurd:
The Worlds of Philip Guston and Claes Oldenburg
March 3–June 14, 2015
Prints by Philip Guston (1913–1980) and Claes Oldenburg (born 1929), complemented by works on paper from other Contemporary artists, display a cartoonish style as well as a dark disposition. These selections comment on the world by lampooning the serious, ridiculing the monumental, and pointing out capriciousness in the ordinary.
The department’s early works are chiefly European. Starting with the second half of the 19th century, the collection becomes more balanced between European and American works on paper. It has a strong collection of old master prints including 100 early German woodcuts and engravings, 50 of which are by Albrecht Dürer, and prints by Rembrandt and Jacques Bellange. Rare impressions include works by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Canaletto, and Camille Pissarro; the deluxe edition of Max Klinger’s portfolio A Love; and an early impression of Edvard Munch’s 1895 Self-Portrait. The department has a substantial American print collection with 1,500 wood engravings by Winslow Homer, Thomas Nast, and Frederic Remington. The core of the contemporary print collection is a large group of works made by American and European artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Enzo Cucchi, Eric Fischl, David Rabinowitch, and James Turrell.
The department also collects master drawings from the 16th century to the present, and has exceptional examples by Edgar Degas, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Paul Klee, Adolphe Menzel, Pablo Picasso, and Odilon Redon. In the mid-1990s, the museum began acquiring significant drawings by Abstract Expressionist painters, including Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, William Baziotes, James Brooks, Arshile Gorky, Adolph Gottlieb, Franz Kline, and Richard Pousette-Dart. Another departmental focus is drawings by 20th-century sculptors, among them Aristide Maillol and David Smith. Since 2000, the museum has also acquired major works on paper by Jasper Johns.
In 1996, the MFAH acquired all of the individual prints, portfolios, and books that the Peter Blum Edition published from its inception in 1980 through 1994. Founded by Peter Blum, an American-born art critic, dealer, and filmmaker, the Peter Blum Edition focuses exclusively on publishing prints by contemporary American and European artists. Blum himself and Blumarts Inc., the parent company of the Peter Blum Edition, also donated all of the related preparatory material (more than 1,000 objects), providing a complete record of many of the print projects. In 2006, the MFAH showcased this important acquisition in the three-part exhibition Singular Multiples: The Peter Blum Edition Archive, 1980–1994, the largest exhibition ever in North America devoted entirely to printmaking.
The Kelseys have donated over 1,300 American prints and research materials to the MFAH. This includes 600 wood engravings by Thomas Nast and 400 works by Winslow Homer. Nearly complete sets of Nast's and Homer's graphic oeuvres, these gifts span the artists’ careers and constitute the largest and most thorough collections of their work in any library or museum. In addition to these impressive gifts, the Kelseys have also donated over 300 wood engravings by Frederic Remington.
Co-founders of the Department of Prints and Drawings, Virginia and Ira Jackson donated 110 noteworthy prints to the museum and supported the department’s collecting practices. Inspired by an art history course on French printmaking, Virginia began collecting prints when she returned as an adult to graduate school and her husband soon became an equally passionate collaborator. Together, they created an internationally renowned collection of more than 1,000 objects focusing on color lithographs created in Paris from 1890 to 1910, with a particular emphasis on the work of Pierre Bonnard and the Nabis. In addition to masterworks, the Jackson also collected ephemera to present a fully rounded view of avant-garde art in France at the turn of the century.
Virginia and Ira Jackson created an endowment in 1998 to fund an annual lecture at the MFAH on the collecting and connoisseurship of prints and drawings. The Virginia and Ira Jackson Lecture remains the only ongoing program of its type in the country. The free public lecture series is just one of the many contributions these important collectors made to the Museum. Highlights of Past Lectures
MFAH members interested in prints and drawings are invited to join Art + Paper, the patron group for the department of prints and drawings. Art + Paper meets four to five times a year, September through June, for exhibition previews and openings, lectures by internationally renowned art historians and collectors, behind-the-scenes tours, workshops, and visits to artists’ studios and private collections. At the final meeting each year, Art + Paper members use their dues to acquire artworks for the MFAH.
The Works on Paper Study Center is available to students, scholars, artists, and other individuals who wish to view works from the museum’s collections of photography and prints and drawings. Open by appointment to groups of up to 20, the study center is located in the Beck Building. The Hirsch Library contains a large collection of books about prints and drawings and is open to museum visitors and the general public. Visit the Hirsch Library page for information on library hours and access to the online catalog.