This exhibition is a tribute to James Mundy (Vassar, class of 1974) upon his retirement as the Anne Hendricks Bass Director of the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, a post he has held for twenty-eight years. Organized by the curators of the Art Center, the special exhibition spotlights over ninety drawings, prints, photographs, hanging and hand scrolls, sculptures, and paintings acquired over three decades, and encompasses art from across the geographic scope of the collection.
A majority of works on view are light-sensitive and can only be shown for short periods of time, affording audiences a splendid chance to examine works from the museum’s vaults that are rarely seen except upon request or through classes. The exhibition is supported by the Friends of the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center Exhibition Fund.
Japanese, Heian period, 12th century
One Hundred Images of the Amida Buddha
Ink stamps on paper
Purchase, The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center Purchase Fund, 2009.3
Among the first block-printed images known in Japan are personal seals and religious icons. Buddhists believed that creating many images of the Buddha would help to prepare one’s path toward salvation. A fruitful way to do this was to stamp hundreds or thousands of block-carved pictures each day. This sheet is the earliest print in the permanent collection, and it exemplifies Asian printmaking near its beginnings. The stamps were all printed from small, individual wood blocks, the first printmaking process on paper.
Working for years to build the Japanese collection with Vassar’s professor in this area, we set our sights on finding one of the earliest prints in existence, the so-called “100 Buddha Print” from the twelfth century. These are very rare and mostly survive in fragments but in the 1990s around thirty full sheets were retrieved from the hollow core of a large wooden sculpture of the Buddha in a Kyoto temple when it was being studied for conservation. A dealer in that city knowing of our interests acquired this one for us. —JM
Soga Shohaku (Japanese ca.1730–1781)
Pasturing Horses, ca. 1763–64
Hanging scroll; ink and pigments on paper, mounted on silk
Purchase, Pratt Fund
I together with Professor Andrew Watsky of Vassar’s Art Department first saw this extremely energetic work by one of Japan’s “eccentric” artists of the Edo period in 1994 with a Kyoto dealer. We were both taken with it but the cost was much more than we could afford. Over the next ten years I returned several times to this Kyoto dealer and always asked to see the Shohaku again even though the dealer had withdrawn it from the market. Finally, in 2014, we had enough money to purchase the scroll and I asked to buy it and what was the price (assuming it had risen with inflation). The dealer surprised me by saying that the price was that quoted ten years earlier. In the meantime, the Japanese yen had fallen in value by 20%; thus we saved a considerable amount of money by waiting ten years. —JM
Francesco Mazzola, called Parmigianino (Italian 1503–1540)
Study of a Nude, ca. 1535
Red chalk on paper mounted on cream laid paper
Gift of Deborah Kirk Solbert, class of 1943,
in memory of Sarah Minis Hayes Goodrich, 2018.22
Parmigianino (literally “Little Johnny from Parma”) was one of the younger generation of artists in Rome who inverted many of the classical norms of art-making founded during the Renaissance. The style of these so-called Mannerists was distinguished by narrative, spatial, and sexual ambiguities. He achieved immediate success as a young prodigy and would have remained ascendant in Rome except for the invasion of the troops of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in May, 1527, the so-called Sack of Rome. This event created a diaspora for artists such as Parmigianino who returned to his native province of Emilia Romagna where he undertook several key commissions in Bologna and Castelmaggiore. This drawing dates from that period, a time when Parmigianino became increasingly distracted by alchemical pursuits and developing poor health. He would die shortly thereafter at the age of thirty-seven.
This recent gift came to us from a donor who spent one year at Vassar during the years of World War II after which she dropped out and joined the Navy having reached the eligible age. She had a great aunt who often traveled to Europe during the 1920s and picked up “souvenirs.” This drawing was one such memento purchased in Florence and later bequeathed to our donor. This work by Parmigianino was unknown to the scholarly world until now. —JM
Federico Zuccaro (Italian 1541–1609)
St. Paul Healing the Lame
Pen and brown ink and wash on cream laid paper
Purchase, Mary (Elizabeth) Weitzel Gibbons, class of 1951
I have spent most of my scholarly career assembling the catalogue raisonné of the more than 1,000 drawings of the Italian sixteenth-century artist Federico Zuccaro. In 1980 I assembled an exhibition of drawings by various artists. This drawing, which belonged to a pair of Massachusetts collectors, was included. I was surprised that there was no full-length study of Zuccaro’s drawings and decided that was a long-term project that I wished to take on. The sheet is preparatory for one of the painted roundels on the ceiling of the Pauline Chapel in the Vatican. The owners of the drawing placed it on the market and it was sold to a Swiss collector who, in turn, later placed it in the first Christie’s Old Master Drawings sale in Paris. On the day of the sale, I woke up very early (given the time difference) so as to bid on the telephone. When this drawing came up for sale it was as if someone had sprinkled fairy dust in the room—no one bid. I made the first bid and it was hammered down and came to Vassar. It was as if it were destined to happen. —JM
Lodovico Cigoli (Italian 1559–1613)
Seated draped figure
Red chalk on paper
Purchase, Mary (Elizabeth) Weitzel Gibbons, class of 1951, Fund and Gift of Tim D. Wright
Both this drawing and the Vanni drawing nearby were bought with funds donated by the late Mary Weitzel Gibbons Landor, class of 1951. She and her first husband, Felton Gibbons, were historians of Italian art and collectors of drawings. I first met Mary in the fall of 1974 when I was a first-year graduate student at Princeton. She hired me to be her mother’s driver. Mary was a very generous supporter of the art museum at Vassar over many decades but always on her terms—one never asked for a donation. She contributed to her acquisition fund for the Art Center over many years, and throughout that time gave over fifty works of art directly or through purchase funds. —JM
Federico Zuccaro (Italian 1541–1609)
Two Peasants, One Resting (recto)
Black and red chalk on cream laid paper
Purchase, Mary (Elizabeth) Weitzel Gibbons, class of 1951, Fund
In late 1563 the young Federico Zuccaro still in his early twenties was summoned from Rome to Venice by the powerful Grimani family to undertake his first autonomous painting commissions. While there he was given access to the family’s magnificent art collection including a splendid manuscript illuminated by a group of Flemish artists in the first fifteen years of the sixteenth century. This volume of over 1,600 pages known as the Grimani Breviary was to be shown only to “people of extraordinary standing and only in exceptional circumstances.” Federico seemed to qualify, for he made copies of numerous pages in the volume in his distinctive combination of red and black chalks. This sheet, portraying two very Northern European farmers, pausing at a well to refresh themselves after a tiring session of haymaking, comes from the border of the breviary’s calendar page for August. It is one of eight known surviving sketches from the manuscript. On the drawing’s reverse is the faint impression of the following sheet of Federico’s sketchbook depicting all that remains of a lost drawing of another calendar page border from the month of April.
Alexandre-Jean-Baptiste Hesse (French 1806–1879)
Black, red, and white chalk on light brown paper
Purchase, Suzette Morton Davidson, class of 1934, Fund, 2011.10
This impressive drawing is an academic study from life for the figure of St. Joseph in the artist’s fresco of the Adoration of the Shepherds for the church of Saint Julien in Chevry-en-Seriene, a town about fifty kilometers southeast of Fontainebleau in France. It is an excellent example for teaching students about drawing the figure in several different colors of chalks.
International Art fairs have offered collectors and collecting institutions an efficient albeit competitive market place for different types of art. The Salon du Dessin which takes place in Paris each spring is such a place. Focused solely on drawings from the Old Masters to Early Modern works, the fair attracts art dealers from all over Europe and the United States. It is not a place that affords the opportunity for deliberative decisions—opening night is congested and full of distractions. Making a choice then can be impulsive and, therefore, risky. Fortunately, the following morning is designated for museum curators only, and then one can view things and make decisions in a more contemplative environment. This drawing and the drawings by Guillaumet and Lebasque nearby were acquired that way. —JM
Charles Paul Renouard (French 1845–1924)
Artist Working with Camera Lucida
Graphite on beige wove paper
Purchase, the Ali Can Ertug, class of 1996, Memorial Fund
Sometimes one is on the receiving end of small kindnesses from colleagues. In 2011, the fine collection of the late Charles Ryskamp, former director of the Frick Collection and Morgan Library, was auctioned. Among works we were hoping to bid on was this drawing of a man using a camera lucida, a drawing tool that allows the draftsman to trace an image reflected onto the surface by a half-silvered mirror set at 45 degrees. William Henry Fox Talbot, one of the co- inventors of the photographic process, supposedly got his idea for the medium while using the camera lucida to sketch while on his honeymoon to Lake Como. The dean of nineteenth-century photography dealers, Hans Kraus, Jr., was ready to acquire this drawing for his collection, but when he saw that I was bidding he kindly deferred to Vassar, realizing that its role in educating our students took precedence to his ownership. What a gentleman! —JM
Paul Gauguin (French 1848–1903)
Pots en Grès Chaplet (Chaplet Stoneware Jugs), ca. 1888
Gouache, watercolor, and charcoal on Japanese paper
Bequest of Sarah Hamlin Stern, class of 1938, in memory of her husband, Henry Root Stern, Jr.
The Post-Impressionist painter Paul Gauguin made this elegant drawing inspired by his work with the ceramist Ernest Chaplet. The artist pictures his own stoneware jugs made at Chaplet’s studio, two of them with the classical motif of Leda and the Swan. Though unsuccessful at making a living this way, he still made around one hundred ceramic objects.
To acquire a great work of art without lifting a finger is rare. Every so often a Vassar alumna or alumnus will bequeath a work of art without ever discussing it with a representative of the college. When this happens, the result is occasionally a “ten strike.” Unannounced in 1994 we received a shipment from the estate of Sarah Hamlin Stern that contained this fine gouache and watercolor by Paul Gauguin, the best kind of surprise, indeed. —JM
Edvard Munch (Norwegian 1863–1944)
Color woodcut on Japanese paper
Gift of Philip and Lynn Straus, class of 1946, 1995.20
By 1896, when Munch made this color woodcut, he had turned out a body of modern paintings, prints, and drawings exploring raw human emotions, often using nocturnal ambiance to reveal depths of emotion. With this print, the Norwegian artist carved his two woodblocks brusquely, using wooden planks with pronounced textures that, in part, created stifling stripes over the woman’s face.
Over the past 25 years, it has been a privilege to get to know and work with Lynn Straus, class of 1946, and her late husband Phil. They have spent their lives in various philanthropic pursuits and their respective almae mater, Vassar and Harvard, have benefited from their deep engagement. Their art collecting was always very informed and stressed quality, and in the case of Edvard Munch, extreme depth. College art collections tend to move forward in fits and starts, not at an incremental pace. Collectors like the Strauses can elevate a museum collection to the next level. —JM
Simon Petrus Klotz (German 1776–1824)
Arcadian Landscape, ca. 1800
Brush and wash in gray and black ink, and pen in black ink, on cream laid paper with watermark
Purchase, Suzette Morton Davidson Fund
This ink study of a dark, dense landscape populated with disintegrating classical ruins is a perfect example of the merging of neo-classical themes and an emerging Romantic sensibility in German art and literature around 1800. A history painter, watercolorist, and printmaker from Mannheim, Klotz traveled abundantly, visiting Vienna, Dresden, Berlin, and Copenhagen, as well as France and Italy, making numerous watercolors and ink drawings.
In collection building, one should always be guided by the object and not the artist’s name. Works of high quality can come from the hands of little-known masters. What I call contrapuntal collecting (focusing on high quality objects from places or periods not hotly traded) can maximize the potential of a limited budget. Such areas as eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Northern European landscape drawing and painting is one area where we took advantage of artists held in relative obscurity. —JM
Milton Bellin (American 1913–1997)
Black ink and white gouache on rust paper
Gift from the estate of Milton Bellin
Quite unexpectedly, Vassar was asked to choose works from the estate of Milton Bellin, a talented realist artist of the 1930s from Connecticut, who after meeting with only modest success with government commissions and Hollywood storyboarding, returned to the East Coast and spent the rest of his career as an art educator in the public school system of New York City. He made his mark financially by successfully marketing one of the first bottled salad dressings, and left an estate, part of which has endowed a portion of our acquisition program for the past twenty years. —JM
Marc Chagall (French b. Russia 1887–1985)
Bouquet of Flowers, 1952–1953
Gouache and pastel on paper, mounted on canvas
Gift from the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Alexander E. Racolin, 1995.13.2
The acquisition of the Chagall was part of one of the most unusual museum moments I’ve experienced. Upon the death of Mr. Racolin, whose grandson went to Vassar, his will stipulated that his collection of around 150 works of art should be equally divided between Vassar and the Neuberger Museum at the State University of New York at Purchase where they were being housed. But how should this be done? Just what you might expect. I met the Neuberger director at her museum one Saturday morning and we flipped a coin and “chose sides.” The Neuberger director won the coin toss and chose a lovely Alpine landscape by Ernst Kirchner, I followed with Picasso’s Head of a Woman from 1953–54. This Chagall was our choice on the second round. —JM
Gaston Lachaise (American b. France 1882–1935)
Graphite on paper
Gift of Katharine Kuh (Katharine Woolf, class of 1925), in honor of James Mundy
Shortly after I was appointed director of the museum in 1991, I was summoned to New York City by the well-known curator and art critic Katherine Kuh, class of 1925. A founding member of our Advisory Board, she wanted to make a gift to the collection in my honor. We toured her collection and then went to the dining-room table where she laid out several drawings by the American sculptor Theodore Roszak and said she wished to donate one and I should choose. Instead I looked up and pointed to a drawing on the wall of a large female nude by Gaston Lachaise and said that was the one I wanted. “Impossible,” she responded. By the end of the spirited—and delightful—conversation about Lachaise that followed, she had changed her mind, and the drawing came to Vassar. —JM