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History of the Collection
Old Master Drawings at Bowdoin College, by David P. Becker

The collection of drawings in the Bowdoin College Museum of Art contains the first old master drawings to arrive in this country, at some time during the second quarter of the eighteenth century. It is certainly the oldest public collection of drawings, having been established in 1811 by the bequest of James Bowdoin III (1752—1811) to the College. A major portion, perhaps the entirety, of that group of 141 sheets was almost certainly owned by the colonial portrait painter John Smibert (1688—1751), who was born in Edinburgh, trained principally in London, and settled in Boston by 1729.

Smibert's recently discovered autograph account book in the Public Records Office in London reveals that he purchased at least 251 drawings in Florence during a two-year stay in Italy.1 Indeed, the very first purchase recorded during his sojourn was of 250 drawings on 1 February 1720 from "Sigre. Scatchati floure painter."2 Miles Chappell has determined that this flower painter was probably a member of the Florentine family of artists which included the flower specialist Andrea Scacciati (1642—1704/10) and the engraver also named Andrea Scacciati (1725—1771).3 Nine days later, Smibert additionally bought a  cartoon by "Sallviator," whom Chappell identifies as Salvator Rosa."4 Smibert almost certainly was acting as an agent for one or more patrons during his stay in Italy, as he made some considerable purchases of paintings and art objects there.5 However, balancing the cost of the drawings he acquired with the other works of art purchased in the period 1 February to 28 October 1720, as recorded in his notebook (ca. 18 scudi against ca. 1,500 scudi), it is reasonable to suppose that he kept these drawings for himself, as artistic sources for study.6  

He is known to have executed several portrait commissions during his sojourn, in addition to his regular course of copying paintings by Renaissance and Baroque masters.7 It is fairly well established that several of Smibert's painted copies of old masters are now at Bowdoin College, having also been acquired and subsequently bequeathed by James Bowdoin III.8 Smibert had an active studio in Boston from his arrival there in 1729 until his death in 1751 , and the contents of his studio remained intact under the care of his nephew John Moffatt (died 1777) and afterward until the turn of the century. Most important for the argument presented here, the presence of drawings in the studio was recorded in both Smibert's and his nephew's estates and in the possession of his son Williams.9 Indeed, such native-born artists as Copley, Trumbull, Vanderlyn, and Allston visited Smibert's studio and received inspiration from the European works of art (and copies from them) to be seen there.10

Concrete evidence for a Smibert provenance for the drawings in the Bowdoin bequest lies in the inscriptions including Smibert's name on three of the sheets or their mounts  (BCMA 1811.56, 1811.55, and 1811.54). At one time, all three of the drawings were ascribed to Smibert himself,11 but two of them are clearly sixteenth-century (BCMA 1811.56, 1811.55) and the third is most probably seventeenth-century (BCMA 1811.54). Therefore, the inscriptions probably refer to ownership by John Smibert at one time.  

The conclusion that the major portion, perhaps all, of the group of master drawings in the Bowdoin bequest came from John Smibert's purchases is further supported by the physical evidence of the drawings themselves. Every drawing which has been securely attributed to a known artist can be dated before 1728, when Smibert left England for this country.12 The presence within this group of drawings of some eighteen sheets attributable to Carlo Maratti and his followers accords well with Smibert's arrival in Rome in 1720, as Maratti himself had died there in 1713, and Pietro de' Pietri (ca. ten sheets can be given to him alone) had died in 1716 in the same city. In addition, the drawing by Tommaso Redi (BCMA 1811.31) may have been purchased by Smibert directly from Redi himself, as he is recorded as having bought a "pictor" from the artist on 25 May 1720.13  

Only three collectors' marks appear on five of the drawings. They are the marks of the artist Sir Peter Lely, who died in 1680 (Lugt 2092, on 1811.10); Lely's own assistant, P. H.  Lankrink, who died in 1692 (Lugt 2090, on BCMA 1811.83); and the Amsterdam art dealer, auctioneer, and collector Jan Pietersz. Zomer, who died in 1724 (Lugt 1511, BCMA 1811.33, 1811.46, and 1811.42). Though the sale of Zomer's personal collection did not take place until the 1720s, Lugt notes that he applied his mark on drawings passing through his trade, which had begun at least by 1690. 

In quite a few cases, the original drawing mounts have been saved, many of which bear eighteenth-century English or Dutch watermarks; the style of the mount decoration and inscriptions reveal English origins.14 Of significance is the fact that all of the traditional attributions or inscriptions on the drawings or mounts are to artists active before 1728. It is also quite possible though improbable that Smibert acquired these or other sheets in England after his return from Italy in 1721. It is further possible that once in America, Smibert purchased drawings from his London agent, Arthur Pond (ca. 1705—1758), as it is known that he ordered artists' supplies and prints from him; however, none of the drawings bear Pond's characteristic annotations.15  

It seems increasingly unlikely that the collection was purchased by James Bowdoin III during his tour as minister to France and Spain from 1805 to 1808, as had previously been thought, for it would seem that at least some of the drawings would date from the later eighteenth century. No purchases of drawings are recorded by him during that tour of duty or on two earlier trips to Europe in 1771/72 and 1775/76.16 Unfortunately, there is also no record of any purchase of drawings from Smibert's studio by Bowdoin or any other member of his family, though one is assumed. Katharine Watson has speculated that Bowdoin may have purchased paintings and drawings from Smibert's studio specifically as teaching materials for the college he was endowing in his father's memory in Maine.17

In any case, two "Folios" of drawings, valued originally at $7.75, were included in the collections of art, books, and scientific materials bequeathed by James Bowdoin III to Bowdoin College in 1811.18 Considered part of the library, the drawings remained virtually undisturbed until their discovery some seventy years later. That bequest of 141 sheets19 constitutes just under half the present old master drawing collection at the Museum. Contained in that original foundation of the collection are the supreme Bruegel landscape (BCMA 1811.142), the Vellert stained glass study (BCMA 1811.109), the two Koninck landscapes  (BCMA 1811.82 and 1811.79), the Beccafumi fresco study (BCMA 1811.85), and the studies by Taddeo Zuccaro and Carlo Maratti (BCMA 1811.62 and 1811.49), among many other notable sheets.  

The next major group of old master drawings came to the collections through the offices of Professor Henry Johnson (1855—1918), a remarkable teacher and scholar and the first director of the Museum of Art. Born in Gardiner, Maine, the son of a hardware store proprietor, Johnson graduated from Bowdoin in 1874, a member of Phi Beta Kappa.  Almost immediately he went to Europe, studying literature at the Universities of Göttingen and Paris.20 He was appointed instructor in modern languages at Bowdoin in 1877 and also in that year was awarded an A.M. degree by the College. He became professor of modern languages in 1881; the following year he returned to Germany for two years at the Universities of Leipzig and Berlin, achieving his doctorate at the latter in 1884. While teaching at the College, Professor Johnson was librarian from 1880 to 1885 and the curator of the art collections from 1881 to 1887 and 1892 to 1914, in which year he was appointed the first director of the Museum. Johnson was a noted author and translator, publishing editions of Shakespeare, Schiller, and Heredia and a complete translation of Dante's Divine Comedy, which appeared in 1915. He also published a book of his own poems. Johnson was awarded an honorary doctorate of literature by the College in 1914.  

Professor Johnson was deeply committed to caring for and building up the art collections at Bowdoin, particularly the growing classical group being assembled by Edward Perry Warren and the drawings in the Bowdoin bequest. The latter had been rediscovered near the time he had been appointed curator, and he was responsible for publishing the only complete listing of the drawing bequest, in 1885. It is clear that he wished to add to that collection by small purchases of his own. In the 1930 Catalogue of the Art Collections, a group of over thirty drawings is listed in the "Johnson Collection" as a supplement to the original collection. In 1932, this group was acquired from the family as a memorial to Johnson through funds donated by James Phinney Baxter. Baxter, who had received from Bowdoin both an A.M. in 1881 and a Litt. D. in 1904, was an Overseer of the College and  a former mayor of Portland. Four other drawings from Johnson's collection were bequeathed to the Museum in 1958 by his daughter, Helen Johnson (Mrs. Stanley P.) Chase.  Further, this writer believes that the group of 105 drawings which entered the collections in 1930 under somewhat unclear circumstances were purchased by Professor Johnson for the museum. The group of drawings collected by Johnson includes such notable sheets as the Rubens (BCMA 1958.67), the Cambiaso (BCMA 1932.8), the Balducci (BCMA 1932.42), the Guercino (BCMA 1930.197), and the Stella (BCMA 1930.187).

The methods by which Johnson assembled this collection are not entirely known, but, extraordinarily, most seem to have been ordered by him sight unseen from Europe through book dealers' catalogues. A scant three records survive of his purchases: an invoice dated 20 February 1886 from Charles T. Jefferies & Sons, Bristol, England, for "Drawings by Old Masters, at £30" from their catalogue 112; a letter dated 31 May 1892 from Henry Sotheran & Co., London, referring to Johnson's purchase of an "Atlas folio of scrapbook studies from the old masters"; and a letter of 31 May 1893 from Karl W. Hiersemann, a book and art dealer in Leipzig, referring to an order for an unspecified number of drawings (but see BCMA 1932.31).21 It is possible that he had seen some of these or other drawings on one of his  several trips to Europe in the 1880s and 1890s, but the above orders were apparently all made from catalogue listings. The largest single group (some twenty-nine sheets) within the Johnson drawings is from the collection of William Bates (1824-1884), a professor at Queen's University, Birmingham, England, most noted for his collection of drawings by Thomas Rowlandson.22 The sale of his drawings took place at Sotheby's London on 19 January 1887.  

Finally, a small but distinguished group of drawings was presented to the Museum by Miss Susan Dwight Bliss, a New York collector who was most generous in her benefactions to the Metropolitan and Newark Museums; Harvard, Yale, and Princeton Universities; and Bowdoin College. She collected drawings, prints, and other works of art in Europe and New York City from the early years of this century until her death in 1966.  Unfortunately, few records survive of her purchases, but it would appear that many of her drawings were acquired at the American Art Association and other galleries in New York during the 1920s and 1930s. Her gifts to Bowdoin include the Stradanus and Berchem print studies (1956.24.266 and 1956.24.187), the two Castiglione sheets (BCMA 1956.24.196 and 1956.24.197), and the major Maratti study (BCMA 1956.24.230).  

Of the ninety-four drawings selected to be featured in this catalogue and the accompanying exhibition, over half (fifty-two) are from the original Bowdoin bequest; of the remainder, Henry Johnson bought twenty-four, and Susan Dwight Bliss gave fourteen sheets. The four other drawings in this selection were purchased with the modest acquisition funds available to the Museum. Of interest is the purchase in 1918 of the Flaxman (1918.1) through a fund devoted to classical art.    

Previous Scholarship  

The history of scholarly research into the old master drawing collection began with the rediscovery of the drawings in the Bowdoin bequest in an "old box" in the college library by two students, Frederick W. Hall (A.B.1880, A.M.1883) and Horace Henderson (A.B. 1879).23 Hall undertook a manuscript listing of them, which he finished in 1881 and gave to Henry Johnson, the newly-appointed curator of the art collections.24 Utilizing Hall's manuscript, Professor Johnson then prepared a careful description of the 142 sheets in the group, as the first part in a proposed catalogue of the art collections.25 This volume  was published in November of 1885 and previous to the present catalogue was the sole publication of the entire Bowdoin bequest of drawings. Though fairly inaccurate (of seventy-six attributions in the 1885 Catalogue, only eighteen can be accepted today, ten of which are to a single artist), Johnson's descriptive listing is a scrupulous record of the physical appearance of the sheets. In addition, he recorded the inscriptions on many of the drawings and their mounts; quite a few of the latter were removed in the early part of this century and lost. The 1885 Catalogue is also notable for Johnson's decision to publish fifty large-paper copies which included original photographs of twelve of the sheets. Many of these copies were sent by him to museums and university libraries. Charles Eliot Norton, the influential professor of art history at Harvard, received a copy and sent back several comments and corrections in a warm letter to Johnson.26  

The very next year saw the publication of sixteen of the drawings in a portfolio of photogravure reproductions (twenty in all) of art works at Bowdoin, published by the College library and with commentaries by the Reverend Fred H. Allen of Lewiston, Maine.27 The author of several general guides to art appreciation, Allen supplied glowing notices for each work in this publication, which was a relatively early instance of facsimile reproduction in this country. Upon the opening of the Walker Art Building in 1894, the entire Bowdoin drawing collection was placed on permanent display on racks in the Bowdoin Gallery, remaining there for over thirty years. As a result of such extended exposure in a gallery lit by natural light, many of the drawings show considerable fading of certain media, particularly ink and wash pigments (see BCMA 1811.87 and 1811.128). Fortunately, most of the sheets retain much of their original character, especially those executed in chalk.  

Johnson's catalogue was responsible for the first publication of several drawings in the wider scholarly literature. In the first volume of the Art Bulletin of 1913, Frank Jewett Mather, Jr., a professor of art history and director of the museum at Princeton, illustrated nine of the Italian sheets, offering a few new attributions and considerable discussion and indicating that his first knowledge of the collection came from the 1885 Catalogue.28 The next year Mather published a group of the northern drawings and had the honor of being  the first to recognize the masterpiece and best-known drawing of the entire collection, the Bruegel landscape (BCMA 1811.142), previously classed as unknown by Johnson and Allen.29  

During his curatorship, Johnson had seen to the photographing of all the drawings in the Bowdoin bequest, and in 1913 sent photographs of them to Filippo di Pietro of the Uffizi, who returned them with notations as to his agreement with the attributions or alternative suggestions.30 His general classification of many of the sheets was a beginning in sorting out national schools within the collection. Over twenty years of apparent inactivity followed, until the appointment of Philip C. Beam as curator of the Museum.  Largely through his efforts, photographs of the collection at that time (including the Johnson drawings purchased in 1932) were sent to Sir Robert Witt, the London drawings collector who was setting up a photographic library for the study of art history, which remains today as the Witt Library of the Courtauld Institute. Upon receipt of the photographs, Sir Robert sent many of his own comments on the attributions to the museum in 1936.31 The photographs have remained in London, a few of them gathering inscriptions and attributions which were recorded by this writer in 1983.32  

Since that time, and with the increasing knowledge in art historical circles of the drawing collection (spurred by the fame of the Bruegel), a limited yet growing number of scholars and connoisseurs have visited the collection and at times have left their comments in the Museum files. These have included, during the late 1930s and 1940s, Agnes Mongan and Jakob Rosenberg of the Fogg Art Museum, Felice Stampfle of the Pierpont Morgan Library, and Frits Lugt, the Dutch scholar and collector, who made many helpful attributions of the northern drawings during his 1945 visit. More recently, the drawings have been examined by Jacob Bean, Egbert Haverkamp Begemann, Horst Gerson, Julius Held, Michael Jaffé, Catherine Johnston, J. Richard Judson, Jennifer Montagu, Konrad Oberhuber, Erwin Panofsky, Stephen Pepper, William Robinson, Pierre Rosenberg, Richard  Spear, Mary Cazort Taylor, Hans Tietze, Erika Tietze-Conrat, and Walter Vitzthum. The present writer's efforts have been aided immeasurably by these scholars' comments, many of which are reflected in the individual catalogue entries which follow.  

During the 1960s and 1970s, a few individual sheets from the collection have been published in the scholarly literature. However, it should be stated that of the ninety-four drawings which are extensively described in the first part of the present catalogue, only just over one-third have been reproduced or discussed in previous literature. The collection of old master drawings at Bowdoin College has until the present remained essentially unpublished. With the exceptions of the Bruegel and the Rubens, very few of the drawings have traveled to exhibitions outside the state of Maine,33 and the occasion of the present traveling exhibition is in its own way an inauguration of the collection.

1. The entire notebook has been reproduced and transcribed in Smibert Notebook 1969.

2. Ibid., p. 99.

3. Chappell 1982, p. 137; the latter artist engraved facsimile reproductions of drawings in the Uffizi later in the century.

4. Ibid.

5. Smibert Notebook 1969, p. 100.

6. Ibid., pp. 99-102; during the same period, he is recorded to have received "on account" some 1,665 scudi from a Mr. William Aikman for an unknown patron. Saunders (1984, p. 315) feels that that patron may have been Sir Francis Grant (1658—1726) of Monymusk, a patron of Smibert's in England whose portrait he painted (repr. Saunders 1984, p. 316, fig. 6).

7. Smibert's entire stay in Italy has been discussed at length in recent literature in Chappell 1982 and Saunders 1984.

8. See Sadik 1966, pp. 211-18, for the fullest discussion of the provenance of these works; see also Chappell 1982 and Saunders 1984 for their attributions. The possibility that the Bowdoin bequest of drawings had once been owned by Smibert had been tentatively ventured by several scholars in previous literature, including Sadik (1966, pp. 211-18) and James Thomas Flexner, in a lecture delivered at Wildenstein and Company, New York, on 13 September 1966 (published by the Bowdoin College Museum of Art in 1967, pp. 11— 13).

9. Sadik 1966, p. 217.

10. See, for instance, Flexner, op. cit., and D. A. Brown, Raphael and America (exh. cat.) (Washington: National Gallery of Art, 1983), p. 23.

11. Catalogue 1885, nos. 70-72; Catalogue 1930, nos. 73—75.

12. Some sixty-three sheets; in addition, the greater portion of the remaining drawings is datable to the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries.

13. Smibert Notebook 1969, p. 100.

14. Most of the identifiable watermarks on the mounts are of continental manufacture (Garden of Holland, Strasbourg bend, arms of Amsterdam, etc.) used in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. As Miss Agnes Mongan first pointed out to me in conversation in 1983, the style of mounts with heavy gold bands surrounding and extending to the edge of the original drawing itself is an English trait.

15. See Lugt 2038, 157, 158, and 2873.

16. Sadik 1966, pp. 137—39, and pp. 208—22 ("James Bowdoin III as Art Collector"). During a brief period in 1771, Bowdoin was a student at Christ Church College, Oxford, and it is tempting to speculate that he may have seen the large collection of drawings there, which were bequeathed by General John Guise in 1765 (see Byam Shaw 1976, p. 1 and n. 1). However, there is no mention of such a viewing.

17. Manuscript notes for a public lecture given on 19 September 1983.

18. Catalogue 1930, p. 9.

19. For many years, a chiaroscuro woodcut by Ugo da Carpi after Raphael's Death of Ananias tapestry cartoon (Bartsch 27) was considered part of the drawing collection, thus actually making 142 sheets in the original bequest as listed in the early catalogues. (The woodcut is BCMA 1811.72 — Catalogue 1885, no. 6 [as Polidoro da Caravaggio); Catalogue 1930, no. 6 [the same].)

20. Johnson's autograph journal from his European stay at this time is in Special Collections, Bowdoin College Library. It is a very personal record of his disciplined studies, his work as a tutor to support himself, and his growing passion for studying works of art.

21. Information from files in the Museum.

22. See biography under Lugt 2604. The ex-Bates drawings at Bowdoin (see Index of Previous Owners) are of frankly uneven quality; perhaps the highlight of his entire collection is the drawing of a nude youth by Rubens now in the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York (repr. in New York 1979, cat. no. 12).

23. Letter in museum files dated 4 February 1936 from Philip C. Wilder (A.B. 1923), recording a conversation with Henderson.

24. Letters of 9 and 21 March 1881 from Hall to Henry Johnson in museum files; in the second letter, Hall stated his belief that all the drawings were indeed "originals."

25. Only 141 are drawings; see note 19 above.

26. Letter dated 23 November 1885 to Johnson in Museum files; Norton commented in it, "the collection is a very interesting one, and I desire much to see it."

27. See Allen 1886.

28. Mather 1913, p. 244.

29. Mather 1914, p. 108.

30. In most cases, these photographs are still in the Museum files, with a pencilled "X" affirming the attribution or suggesting other names or schools if he was not in agreement.

31. Correspondence in Museum files; individual comments are recorded on the record cards for relevant drawings.

32. Unfortunately, many of the photos were placed in anonymous files or so far out of their fields that they eluded any comments.

33. The major scholarly exceptions are those included in the Italian and French exhibitions organized by Vitzthum and Rosenberg respectively (see Regina and Montreal 1970 and Toronto 1972). A small group was included in an American Federation of Arts traveling exhibition during 1962 and 1963, and another small group was shown at Wildenstein and Company, New York, concurrently with the Colonial and Federal Portraits exhibition in 1966. The AFA exhibition included only a checklist, and the latter had no publication.

34. These almost entirely come from a small number bequeathed in 1935 to the College by Charles Potter Kling.