Now available: 3,600 images from the Bowdoin College Museum of Art
The Bowdoin College Museum of Art has contributed approximately 3,600 images to the Artstor Digital Library.* The selection reflects the breadth of the collection—ancient through contemporary western art, Asian and African holdings, numismatics, and a deep trove of works on paper.
While the diversity of the collection is well represented by the selection in Artstor, the prevalence of the drawings is undeniable. Beginning with the museum’s founding collection amassed by James Bowdoin III during the eighteenth century, the emphasis was on European drawings. Two works from his gift to the museum reflect the taste of America’s earliest collectors for old master drawings: a Landscape with Classical Ruins, 1662-1749, by the Dutch artist Jan Frans van Bloemen (above), and a delicate red chalk rendering of the Fall of Icarus, c. 1600 by an unknown Italian draftsman. A later acquisition by the museum, Leonard Bramer’s biblical scene, Noli Mi Tangere (Touch Me Not), 1614-1647, is a testament to the enduring appeal of European drawings in America.
Through the twentieth century, the geographic scope of the museum’s drawings collection expanded with works like the Indian miniature of the Mughal Emperor Akbar Accepting the Gift of a Painting, c. 1600, and the Portrait of a Chinese Nobleman. Two mid-century acquisitions demonstrate that tastes also shifted to later European and American artists: the neoclassical Orestes, 1750-1800, by an unknown artist, and the preparatory sketch by Elihu Vedder, Natura, c. 1893.
Finally, a striking watercolor of 1910, Marine by Charles Herbert Woodbury, a gift of 1914, illustrates the emerging interest in what was then contemporary art.
In 1794, James Bowdoin III (1752-1811) established Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine in the name of his father, James Bowdoin II, who had served as governor of Massachusetts. In 1811, the collection of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art was established with the bequest of James Bowdoin III. The museum currently holds more than 20,000 objects and works of art.
The collection is inclusive with depth and quality in a number of curatorial areas: Assyrian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and Byzantine antiquities comprise one of the finest selections of any small American college museum; in European paintings, the early gifts of Bowdoin III and a dozen works from the Kress Foundation provide the historic base for a selection that includes modern material; among several thousand prints and drawings, the inventory includes artists from Rembrandt to Warhol; the American collection holds an important group of Colonial and Federal portraits, with the famous likenesses of Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, the murals decorating the Museum’s rotunda by the four leading painters of the American Renaissance: Elihu Vedder, Kenyon Cox, Abbott Thayer, and John LaFarge, and the work of other prominent nineteenth and twentieth century artists; non-western collections highlight the arts of Japan, China, Korea, and Southeast Asia, as well as holdings of African, Pacific, Pre-Columbian, and Native American artifacts.
The Museum’s landmark Walker Art Building was commissioned for the College by the sisters Harriet and Sophia Walker. Designed by Charles Follen McKim of McKim, Mead, and White, it was completed in 1894. A recent renovation has expanded the facility.
The Museum, open to the public at no charge, is a teaching facility, with a mission to keep the collections within immediate reach of Bowdoin students, faculty, scholars, and art lovers.
The Bowdoin College Museum of Art collection is being released as part of a thematic launch on American college museums that includes selections from: the Ackland Art Museum (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill); the Davis Museum and Cultural Center (Wellesley College); the Davison Art Center (Wesleyan University); the Ringling Theatre Collection (University of Florida); the Tufts University Art Gallery; the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Art Collection; and the Williams College Museum of Art.