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Old Master Drawings, 1550-1850

September 15, 1984–January 6, 1985

The amassing by individuals of large, encyclopedic collections of old master drawings is more a European than an American tradition and belongs rather to the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries than to the twentieth. Such collections are rare in America, and the securing of one of them for a public institution is a noteworthy occasion. This exhibition celebrates the recent acquisition by the Philadelphia Museum of Art of the John S. Phillips Collection of old master drawings from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, with the Edgar Viguers Seeler Fund (by exchange) and with funds generously contributed by Muriel and Philip Berman. John S. Phillips (1800-1876), one of ten children of a successful China trade merchant in Philadelphia, was a founder of the Franklin Institute in 1824, an early member of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, and, later, a notable collector of prints. Having suffered business reverses around 1827, he subsequently lived a somewhat reclusive life, spending winters at 1022 Clinton Street and summers in Chestnut Hill. Family recollections describe his as tall, thin, taciturn, and invariable dressed in a long-outmoded black frock coat and a tall silk hat from a bygone era. It was during the last three decades of his life that he assembled his large collection of European prints and drawings from the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries, which he bequeathed to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. The most extensive holding of graphic arts in America at the time of its donation in 1876, the Phillips Collection was augmented by gifts to the Academy from two other Philadelphians - John T. Morris in 1925, and John F. Lewis in 1933. The greatest strengths of the collection of nearly twenty-five hundred drawings, from which the present exhibition was selected, lie in its examples of the principal Italian schools - Rome, Bologna, Florence, Venice, Parma, Genoa, Milan, and Naples - from the mid-sixteenth through the early nineteenth centuries. There are less numerous but interesting holdings from the French, German, Netherlandish, Spanish, and English schools as well. Some of the most influential draughtsmen of all time - such as Francesco Mazzola (called il Parmigianino), Hendrik Goltzius, Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione, and Giovanni Battista Tiepolo - are represented by characteristic examples of their styles. Other sheets by less famous masters pose attribution questions that have yet to be resolved through further research; in fact, only recently have works by Nicola Bertuzzi, Jacopo Cestaro, and Giovanni Battista Frulli, formerly listed in the collection as anonymous, been identified. The provenance of many sheets prior to Phillips's ownership can be traced from old inscriptions or collectors' marks on the drawings themselves. More than 120 drawings bear the stamp of Giuseppe Vallardi (1784-1863), a well-known Milanese dealer in prints and drawings; 75 or so sheets are marked with the initials of Barry Delany, an Irish collector active in the third quarter of the nineteenth century. The Philadelphia portrait painter John Neagle (1796-1865) owned about 60 of the works, mainly purchased in Philadelphia in 1838 from William Paulet Carey, an English writer on the arts. Other collectors who were previous owners of certain of Phillips's drawings include Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792); Horace Walpole of Strawberry Hill (1717-1797); the Jonathan Richardsons, Senior (1665-1745) and Junior (1694-1771), English painters and writers on the arts; and possibly Pierre Crozat (1665-1740), the Paris financier who has been called the "king of drawings collectors." Drawings reveal themselves to the viewer with less self-concealment than do paintings. For example, with experience the fluidity of a quill pen can be distinguished from the blunter quality of a reed one, the opaque dark brown of old iron-gall ink from the more transparent golden brown of bistre, the soft and friable nature of charcoal from the firmer texture of black chalk, and the coated quality of prepared papers from colored sheets. Partly for this reason students and connoisseurs over many generations have been inspired to assemble and compare drawings, attempting to distinguish one school from another and one hand from another, as well as the work of the master from that of the pupil and that of the original author from the copyist. The John S. Phillips Collection will provide for years to come a richly varied resource for research in the history of draughtsmanship, as well as a splendid body of material for the enjoyment of Philadelphians and visitors to the city interested in old master drawings.

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Ann Percy

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