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Collecting for the Boston Athenæum in the 21st Century: Paintings and Sculpture

September 2013 – March 2014

Collecting for the BA
Since the year 2000, the Boston Athenæum has added, through gifts and purchases, over fifty paintings and sculptures to its collection of fine arts. This exhibition highlights some of the gems from that group and includes, from the nineteenth century, masterworks of portraiture by Cephas Thompson (1775-1856), Nathaniel Rogers (1788-1844), Francis Alexander (1800-1880), and William McGregor Paxton (1869-1941); rare early genre paintings by Christopher Pearce Cranch (1813-1892), William Holbrook Beard (1823-1900), and David Neal (1838-1915); a classic mid-nineteenth-century still-life by Frederick S. Batcheller (1836-1889); images of children by sculptors Thomas Ball  (1819-1911), Richard Henry Park (1832-1902), and painter William Morris Hunt (1824-1879); and several Boston scenes by painters Enrico Meneghelli (1853-after 1912) and Frank Duveneck (1848-1919). The twentieth century is represented by paintings and sculptures by artists such as John Sloan (1871-1951), Bashka Paeff (1893-1879), Alexander Brook (1898-1980), Polly Thayer (1904-2006), Albert Wein (1915-1991), Leonard Baskin (1922-2000), and George Deem (1932-2008). As a special bonus, several important paintings that have been promised as future gifts to the Athenæum are included.
The Athenæum began acquiring art shortly after its founding in 1807. But with its move to the former Perkins mansion on Pearl Street in Boston in 1822 and the subsequent creation of new gallery spaces, the institution began collecting art in earnest, much of it funded by proceeds from the institution’s exhibitions, the first of which was held in 1827. Collecting has continued, more or less, ever since, and the future of the Athenæum’s art collection looks bright: the Athenæum made a fresh commitment to it in the last decades  of the twentieth century with the establishment of professional curatorial positions, the revivification of its Fine Arts Committee, and the adoption of a formal, museum-level collecting policy. More recently, the institution has been awarded a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts for the compilation of a comprehensive, scholarly catalogue of its collection of paintings and sculpture.
The Athenæum’s long history of collecting in all areas related to the humanities—art, books, maps, manuscripts, prints, and photographs—was celebrated in 2007, the Athenæum’s bicentennial year, with a major exhibition, Acquired Tastes: 200 Years of Colleting for the Boston Athenæum. Now, with the twenty-first century well under way, the institution’s exhibition program will turn its focus to acquisitions made in these areas since the year 2000. Collecting for a New Century: Paintings and Sculptures is the first in a series of four exhibitions that will be held in the Athenæum’s Norma Jean Calderwood Gallery between 2013 and 2018. Respectively, these exhibitions will focus on paintings & sculpture; rare book; maps; and prints & photographs. Collectively, they will celebrate the Athenæum’s continuing commitment to scholarship, preservation, and the dissemination of knowledge as represented by its extensive collections of rare and unique materials.
David Dearinger
Susan Morse Hilles Curator of Paintings & Sculpture and Director of Exhibitions