Eye & Mind: A Legacy of Art Collecting at Vanderbilt University

Salvador Dali
Spanish (1904—1989)
Illustration to Dante's “Divine Comedy”, “Paradise,” Canto 33: “Saint Bernard's Prayer", c. 1960-1964
Wood engraving
Gift of Dr. and Mrs. James E. Mitchell
1982.068

(January 13- May 13, 2010)

Presented to celebrate the opening of Vanderbilt’s newly renovated and expanded galleries, Eye & Mind: A Legacy of Art Collecting at Vanderbilt University illustrates the breadth and depth of the collection, now in its fifty-third year. The updated presentation for 2010 features nineteen new works of art ranging from Baroque sculpture to Pop Art. Our use of the title for this exhibition, drawn from an essay on Cezanne by the philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty, seeks to capture two important aspects of the aesthetic experience, apprehending the work of art and understanding it in its historical and artistic context.

Vanderbilt University’s fine art collection began with Anna C. Hoyt’s generous donation of 105 Old Master and modern prints, significantly enriched due to the 1979 merger of Vanderbilt and Peabody College. Today, this valuable resource numbers in over 6,000 objects. With a newly invigorated focus on the collection as broad-based resource to the university community, Eye & Mind has been crafted to strengthen the educational role of the gallery and its collections within the context of the curriculum. This initiative is complemented by greater overall access to collection resources through class and seminar study, an increased online presence through the gallery’s Web page, and an expansion of the gallery’s operating hours to include Thursday evenings.

Highlights from the current exhibition include the Samuel H. Kress Collection of Renaissance paintings, on view in its entirety. This remarkable collection, the only one of its kind in our region, is notable for its strength in devotional art (especially Madonna subjects), images of saintly martyrdoms, and New Testament narrative selections (such as the Crucifixion). These paintings are complemented by a selection of devotional objects in ivory and polychromed wood, as well as furniture from the period.

Other significant works of art include a large Dutch landscape by Jan Both, one of the foremost painters among the second generation of Dutch Italianates of the seventeenth century; an eighteenth-century Italian harbor scene from the school of Francesco Guardi, and a small landscape by the principal founding member of the French Barbizon landscape school, Theodore Rousseau. Milton Avery, Isabel Bishop, Childe Hassam, George Inness, Edward Steichen, Andy Warhol, and other American artists are represented by outstanding examples of their paintings, photographs, and prints. One surprise for many who are familiar with the collection is an early work by the American painter Milton Resnick—an artist who was closely associated with Abstract Expressionism, a movement in American painting in the 1940s and 1950s.

Milton Avery, Isabel Bishop, Childe Hassam, George Inness, Edward Steichen, and Carrie Mae Weems, and other American artists are represented by outstanding examples of their paintings, photographs, and prints. Two surprises for many who are familiar with the collection include an early work by the American sculptor John Chamberlain and a small painting by Milton Resnick—artists who were closely associated with Abstract Expressionism, a movement in American painting in the 1940s and 1950s.

Vintage drawings, etchings, engravings, lithographs, and serigraphs are strongly represented in Eye & Mind. Highlights include an amusing engraving of a drunken peasant being pushed into a pigsty after Pieter Bruegel the Elder; an early woodcut from 1500 by Albrecht Dürer, one of the acknowledged masters of the medium, and another by his contemporary, Lucas Cranach the Elder; a gem-like illuminated manuscript from a Book of Hours, ca. 1430, depicting St. Margaret and the Dragon; a religious subject by Rembrandt van Rijn; a pair of etchings with engraving touting the virtues of beer over gin by the eighteenth-century English artist William Hogarth; and an imposing, large-scale serigraph on polished stainless steel by the iconic American artist Robert Rauschenberg.

This exhibition is curated by Joseph S. Mella.