The Samuel H. Kress Foundation and Artstor are pleased to announce that they have reached an agreement to collaborate on the digitization and distribution through Artstor of approximately 1,200 art works formerly belonging to the Kress Collection but, through a singular act of philanthropy, presently distributed among ninety institutions in thirty states around the country.

From the mid-1920s to the end of the 1950s, Samuel Henry Kress (1863-1955) and the Samuel H. Kress Foundation (est. 1929) amassed one of the most astonishing collections of European Old Master paintings, sculpture, and decorative arts ever assembled through the efforts of a private individual. Even more remarkable was the manner in which the Kress Collection was shared with the American people. In the largest single donation of European art from the Kress Collection, 1,800 works of art were donated to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. The National Gallery of Art’s Kress Collection contains 376 Old Master paintings, 94 sculptures, 1,307 bronzes and 38 drawings. All of the rest of the Kress Collection – another 1,300 pieces – was distributed across the continent. 700 Old Masters were given to regional museums in eighteen American cities, resulting in the Kress regional collections of twenty to sixty Old Masters that brought the first Italian paintings to many communities throughout the country. Another 200 paintings were divided into study collections for twenty-three colleges and universities; these Kress study collections helped introduce European art to institutions of higher learning. Major gifts of special collections were also bestowed on the Metropolitan Museum of Art (French porcelains and furniture, and a complete Robert Adam room with Gobelins tapestries), the Pierpont Morgan Library (drawings and illuminated manuscripts), and the Philadelphia Museum of Art (13 tapestries on designs by Rubens and Pietro da Cortona). Initiated by Samuel Kress in the early 1930s, the distribution of art was completed, under the guidance of his brother Rush Kress, by the Kress Foundation between 1947 and 1961.

Through the present collaboration, the approximately 1,200 Old Master paintings from the Kress Collection will be made available in digital form through Artstor. Encompassing European art of the principal continental schools from the 13th to the early 19th centuries, the Kress Collection’s greatest distinction resides in the extraordinary abundance of its Italian pieces – more than 1,000 Italian paintings, 500 period frames, 1,300 small bronzes, medals, and plaquettes, and representative sculpture, drawings, and furniture. “The world’s most encyclopaedic collection of Italian painting may be that formed by Samuel H. Kress,” says Colin Eisler, Robert Lehman Professor of Fine Arts at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts. “His original plan was to include works by every artist mentioned by Vasari but the grand design grew to include Italian artists’ works through the late eighteenth century. Had Kress’ gathering remained intact, it would have been the wonder of viewers and scholars alike for its unique, dazzling comprehensiveness.” Many of the greatest Italian artists – Cimabue, Duccio, Giotto, Botticelli, Fra Angelico, Filippo Lippi, Verrocchio, Raphael, Andrea del Sarto, Pontormo, Correggio, Bellini, Carpaccio, Giorgione, Titian, Lotto, Tintoretto, Veronese, Carracci, Bernini, Strozzi, Tiepolo, Guardi, Canaletto, and Bellotto – appear in the Kress Collection, as do numerous significant works by less familiar masters. The French school from the early Renaissance to Poussin, Claude, Watteau, Chardin, Boucher, Fragonard, Houdon, David, and Ingres, is richly represented. Art of German-speaking lands comes from the hand of Durer, Grunewald, Altdorfer, Holbein, and Cranach. Flemish and Spanish tastes intermingle through Petrus Christus, Bosch, Memling, El Greco, Rubens, Van Dyck, Zurbaran, and Goya.

In reaching this agreement, Marilyn Perry, President of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, and Neil Rudenstine, Artstor’s Chairman, expressed their enthusiasm in collaborating to use digital technologies to make the unique Kress Collection more broadly available for noncommercial educational and scholarly purposes. “Sharing the artistic patrimony of Europe with the people of America was the philanthropic vision of Samuel Kress and the Kress Foundation,” comments Dr. Marilyn Perry, President of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation. “We are deeply gratified that the Artstor initiative of the Mellon Foundation will make it possible to share these treasures even more widely.” Rudenstine adds, “We at Artstor are delighted to be working hand in hand with the Kress Foundation – and with the scores of museums which, through Samuel and Rush Kress’s generosity, now care for Kress paintings – to make these extraordinary works of art more accessible to teachers, students and scholars. This partnership is further evidence of Artstor’s strong commitment to engaging the museum community in our effort to build cohesive digital collections based on the needs of scholars.”

Since its creation in 1929, the Samuel H. Kress Foundation has devoted its resources almost exclusively to programs related to European art. In consequence, the Foundation’s activities have been of fundamental importance – and have established a record of philanthropy without equal – in three primary and related areas: the collection and distribution of works of European art to American museums, the preservation of significant monuments of European art and architecture, and the nurturing of professional expertise in art history and art conservation.