Much of the collection of antiquities arrived as a transfer from the Classics Department in the mid-twentieth century. The collection is very deep in examples, mostly of small scale, of Roman sculpture, bronze tools and implements, as well as epigraphs. A representative selection of Greek red- and black-figure ceramics are also included as well as some very fine examples of Egyptian sculpture and tomb artifacts.
While the holdings of Asian art are not extensive, there are excellent examples of Japanese tea jars, painted scrolls and folding screens, and woodcuts from the early Edo through the Meiji periods. The collections of Chinese jades, bronzes, and tomb ceramics are also strengths together with some interesting Buddhist art from East Asia.
While Medieval art is not an overall strength of the collection, the Italian Renaissance paintings and works on paper offer a very good overview of the period thanks in large part to the gifts of Charles M. Pratt in the first decades of the twentieth century. These include paintings from Central Italy and the Veneto in particular. The Northern Renaissance is represented on paper by very fine engravings by Albrecht Dürer and other German printmakers from the Warburg print collection.
The collection of European Art from 1600 to 1900 offers special strengths in Dutch seventeenth-century painting and prints, the latter featuring a wealth of first-rank impressions of Rembrandt etchings from the exceptional Warburg print collection. The permanent collection also features an in-depth array of late eighteenth-century and nineteenth-century British watercolors and drawings rich in topographical and landscape traditions, acquired through art collector and trustee Elias Lyman Magoon. Many key paintings, sculptures, prints, and drawings by French artists of the nineteenth century also form part of the permanent collection.
The Hudson River School of American painting is one of the richest areas of the permanent collection. Paintings by many of the movement’s leading artists, including Thomas Cole, Asher B. Durand, Frederic Church, Jasper Cropsey, and Sanford Robinson Gifford, can be seen in a special, intimate suite of galleries at the Art Center featuring their views of the American Northeast and Europe. At the heart of the permanent collection, most of these paintings are small oils and oil sketches, many of them purchased by an early Vassar College trustee, Dr. Elias Lyman Magoon. A collector of British antiquarian watercolors and prints, Magoon began collecting American art in the mid-1850s while living in New York City. He sold his collection to Matthew Vassar in 1864 to help found the college’s permanent collection. In his searches as a private collector, Magoon sought smaller Hudson River School works so as to stretch his budget, and his purchases are installed in the galleries among several later generous gifts and purchases. A Baptist minister who saw these paintings as expressive of God’s creative power, Magoon gravitated toward the ideal of romantic, color-tinged landscapes brushed with seasonal tints and drama, fitting for these painters’ predilection for the picturesque and luminescent. Drawings are also a strength of the Art Center’s Hudson River School collection, and sheets are exhibited in the galleries on a rotating basis.
This collection features masterworks of the early twentieth century by such American artists as Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, and Georgia O’Keeffe, as well as European masters such as Robert Delaunay, Fernand Léger, Henri Matisse, and Pablo Picasso. Early works by Alexander Calder, Willem De Kooning, Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Arshile Gorky, David Smith, and Henry Moore mark a notable strength in mid-century Modernism. Many of these works came to Vassar in the form of gifts and bequests from important alumna collections, including those of Mrs. Arthur Schwab (Edna Bryner, class of 1907), Virginia Herrick Deknatel, class of 1929, Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd (Blanchette Hooker, class of 1931), and Katherine Sanford Deutsch, class of 1940.
This collection includes works made in the latter part of the twentieth and the twenty-first centuries in a variety of media — painting, drawing, photography, sculpture, and video — and is an area that is rapidly growing. Highlights include major paintings and sculptures by Ellsworth Kelly, Jules Olitski, Agnes Martin, Nancy Graves, Frank Stella, and Anne Truitt. Works of contemporary photography include large color examples by such artists as Cindy Sherman, Richard Misrach, Tina Barney, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, and Rineke Dijkstra as well as black-and-white images by Richard Avedon, Diane Arbus, Peter Hujar, and Richard Barnes.
Photography is a relatively new area of the collection that continues to grow. A major advance to the photography collection occurred in 1973, when funds from The Charles E. Merrill Trust were used to purchase approximately 100 important works. Photography holdings now number over 3,300, ranging from nineteenth-century works by such innovators as Anna Atkins, Eadweard Muybridge, Charles Marville, Giorgio Sommer, Charles Nègre, and Julia Margaret Cameron to masterworks by twentieth-century photography icons such as Berenice Abbott, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Alfred Stieglitz, Weegee, Edward Weston, Diane Arbus, Imogen Cunningham, Paul Caponigro, Walker Evans, Harry Callahan, Aaron Siskind, Lee Friedlander, and Garry Winogrand to more contemporary work including fine examples by Cindy Sherman, Gregory Crewdson, Richard Misrach, Laurie Simmons, Larry Sultan, Joel Sternfeld, Louise Lawler, Sherrie Levine, Rineke Dijkstra, Thomas Ruff, and Stephen Shore among many others. Several artists such as Margaret Bourke-White, Andreas Feininger, Siskind, Arnold Newman, Joel Meyrowitz, and Rollie McKenna are represented in depth. Strengths in the collection include portraiture and street photography. The collection continues to diversify, with recent additions by international artists and artists of color, as well vernacular photography, daguerreotypes, tintypes, and historical documentary photography.
Mythological scenes, such as Willem de Poorter’s The high priest Coresus sacrificing himself to save Callirhoe, were highly popular among Dutch artists in the 1600s. They provided an opportunity to infuse history painting, a highly regarded form in this period, with moralizing themes relevant to contemporary viewers. In this finely painted picture signed and dated 1635, De Poorter chose a particularly obscure moment from Pausanias’s second-century travelogue, Description of Greece. According to the text, a priest from the ancient city of Calydon, Coresus, was in love with the maiden Callirhoe. To his distress, plague befell the Calydonians and the god Dionysus decreed that in order for Coresus to save his people, he must kill Callirhoe. Distraught and about to act, Coresus decides to take the place of his beloved and turns the sword on himself. This noble self-sacrifice is the moment De Poorter chose to depict, Coresus pressing the blade against his chest as trails of blood erupt across his white robe. Onlookers observe aghast, including Callirhoe who kneels nearby, her hands raised in surprise. Above the fiery altar, De Poorter incorporated a statue of Artemis, not Dionysus, in an apparent conflation: a second Coresus described by Pausanias was the founder of the cult of Artemis of Ephesus. This commingling of tales raises the questions of how De Poorter arrived at his subject and what, if any, familiarity he had with the original text. Traditionally thought to be an early student of Rembrandt, De Poorter cannot be confirmed in Rembrandt’s Leiden studio but is listed as a master in the city of Haarlem in 1634. Active in both cities were Chambers of Rhetoricians, dramatic and literary groups with interests in ancient forms of rhetoric. Their performances may have inspired the theatrical elements in De Poorter’s composition including the multi-tiered staging, exaggerated gesture and perhaps even the somewhat homely features of the players.

Vassar College has been collecting works of art for over one hundred and fifty years, formerly as the Vassar College Art Gallery and since 1993 as the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center. The founding collection numbered over 3,000 paintings (mostly American) and works on paper (mostly European). It has since grown to over 19,000 works of art spanning all chronological periods and many cultures.

Our present goal is to make as many of the works in the collection and their records accessible via this website, and as the project evolves and more works are added to the database and more research is documented, this resource will grow as well. The key strengths of the collection fall into the areas of Antiquities, European paintings and works on paper before 1900, Hudson River School paintings and works on paper, International Modernism, and photography. The Asian, North American native cultures, Outsider and Contemporary collections are less comprehensive but continue to grow.

The collections of the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center are intended to support all aspects of the curriculum and to enhance the cultural life in the Hudson Valley region of New York. While only a small percentage of the entire collection is visible in the galleries at one time, many fine works rotate through the galleries as part of temporary exhibitions as well as the permanent collection installation. The Art Center has an active loan program and works from Vassar can often be seen as part of major nationally and internationally touring exhibitions.

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