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THE DEPARTMENT OF PRINTS AND DRAWINGS AT THE
CORCORAN GALLERY OF ART


By Eric Denker, Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Corcoran Gallery of Art

(Archived article from March 2001 - click here for current articles)


The Corcoran Gallery of Art is the oldest public art museum in the nation's capital, opened to the public in 1869. From the outset, works on paper have been a significant part of the permanent collection. The founder of the gallery, William Wilson Corcoran, included volumes of lithographs and photographs as well as 818 portrait engravings by Charles Saint-Memin among his earliest gifts to the collection. Today, the Corcoran has approximately 8000 prints, drawings, and artist's books in their permanent graphic collection. The collection is predominantly American, with prints and drawings dating back to the colonial period. The holdings also include a select group of European works from the fifteenth century through the present.
Evan Summer print Landscape XXXI

Landscape XXXI by Evan Summer

Under Corcoran Director Dr. Herman W. Williams, the collection assumed new importance in the 1950s, with a systematic re-organization of the graphics and the creation of separate storage facilities for the print and drawing holdings. The bequest of Frank B. Bristow in 1968 added over one thousand American and European prints to the Corcoran collection, which had grown n the 1930s and 40s to include works by Winslow Homer, William Merritt Chase, Sargent, Whistler, Dewing and La Farge. In 1977 a gift of approximately two hundred American drawings from J. William Middendorf helped to give needed depth to the nineteenth-century collection. Later in the decade the Women's Committee of the Corcoran Gallery of Art purchased a John Marin watercolor for the museum, beginning their regular support of the collection of works on paper.

Dr. Peter Marzio was responsible for the creation of the Print and Drawing Department in 1982. Under his guidance, space was allocated for a Print and Drawing Study room, and Linda Simmons was appointed the first Curator of Prints and Drawings. Under Simmons the importance of the graphic collection was re-emphasized, and standard practices for the handling of works on paper were established. She was responsible for the first systematic survey of the collection, and the initial condition examinations for purposes of conservation. With grants from the NEA and the Institute of Museum Services, Simmons supervised the production of the first collection catalogues. She began the program of exhibitions from the permanent collection that are still a part of the Corcoran's regular offerings. During her sixteen-year tenure the Department of Prints and Drawings attained a level of professionalism commensurate with the painting and sculpture departments. Graphic arts burgeoned into one of the most vibrant areas of the museum, with regular acquisitions almost doubling the already significant holdings of graphics. The largest single acquisition was Armand Hammer's gift of two thousand Daumier lithographs, but many other important additions were made to the Corcoran during these years. Rauschenberg, Lichtenstein, and Steinberg are among the important modern printmakers whose works were added to the collections in the 1990s.

Three Birds by Jack Boul
Three Birds by Jack Boul, monotype, 8" x 4 1_4", 1989.

In the last three years the Corcoran has acquired over four hundred prints and drawings with an eye to broadening the representation of modern American printmakers, and to strengthening the collection of Washington area artists. Recently, important groups of works by Wayne Thiebaud, Evan Summer, Jack Boul, Prentiss Taylor, and Grace Albee have entered the collection.

The department has worked diligently to acquire first rate impressions of contemporary printmakers, including nationally recognized artists such as Jane Hammond, Jim Dine, and Richard Diebenkorn. We have also made a concerted effort to show and add works by excellent local, national, and international artists whose work has not received the serious attention it richly merits. During the last two years solo exhibitions of Jack Boul and Evan Summer brought these artists deserved attention. Thanks to the generosity of The Friends of the Corcoran we have added important works by Erik Desmazieres, Edda Renouf, Igor Makerevich, and Andrew Krieger to the collection. These artists, as well as Joseph Goldyne, William Kentridge, Joseph Norman, Edda Renouf and many others have been seen in recent acquisition exhibitions that distinguish the Corcoran Gallery as a place where innovative, exciting, and challenging prints regularly are shown. Our mission is to collect and exhibit both historical and contemporary work, the most engaging and original prints created.