CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Curator in the Spotlight:
Victoria Sancho Lobis Prince Trust Associate Curator, Art Institute of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois (January 2016)

The Department of Prints and Drawings at the Art Institute of Chicago was created in 1911 by a group of passionate trustees of the museum. Among them was Clarence Buckingham, whose great print collection and the additions that have been made with funds from his estate form the heart of our collection. Many of our celebrated Rembrandt prints have a Buckingham provenance, and our beloved Rembrandt female nude study was purchased with the Buckingham fund.

In 1922, the collection grew exponentially due to the gift of William Frank Eugene Gurley, who gave over 6,000 drawings in memory of his mother, Leonora Hall Gurley. Some of the great treasures of our collection came in this gift, such as drawings by Raphael, Barocci, and Rubens, and there are still discoveries to be made. In 1940, the first professional curator was appointed to direct our department: Carl O. Schniewind made major acquisitions for our collection, including the Rembrandt drawing of a seated nude. Schniewind was succeeded by Harold Joachim in 1958, who steadily built the collection in all schools and oversaw the acquisition of drawings by Maarten van Heemskerk, Jacques de Gheyn, and Albert Cuyp, among others. Douglas Druick became the third chair of our department in 1985; his greatest love in art history is nineteenth-century France, but he and his successor, Suzanne Folds McCullagh, continued to develop our Dutch and Flemish holdings, with additions of remarkable drawings by Jacob Jordaens and Abraham Bloemaert, as well as important prints by Rembrandt, notably The Phoenixand The Entombment on vellum.

Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669), Seated Female Nude, ca. 1660-62, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago

Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669), Seated Female Nude, ca. 1660-62, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago

I joined the department in September 2013, and it has been my great privilege to continue the collection development efforts that long preceded me. Since my arrival, we have added a group of some thirty prints related to the school of Peter Paul Rubens, in addition to signal prints by Aegidius Sadeler, Hendrick Goltzius, and after Pieter Bruegel the Elder. We have also acquired drawings by Hendrick Goltzius, Joos de Momper, Lucas Vorsterman, Gerrit van Honthorst, Cornelis Schut, Marten de Vos, and Jan de Bray. Especially close to my heart is the red-chalk drawing by Goltzius representing the heads of the sons of Laoco√∂n, which we acquired in the first of the recent I. Q. van Regteren Altena sales. It was a great thrill to be present at the sale with Suzanne Folds McCullagh and to share with her this moment in art history‚ÄĒand in the history of the Art Institute‚Äôs collection. As it happened, the day before the sale, Suzanne and I ran into Professor Richard Brilliant, who advised me in the minor field for my doctoral studies, which was ancient Roman art. Among his many publications is a book titled My Laoco√∂n. Seeing him in London seemed like a sign from the heavens that we would win our bid for the Goltzius drawing. We are delighted that it did make its way to Chicago, and I am currently preparing a short article treating its place in Goltzius‚Äôs oeuvre.

In addition to helping shape our collection, I have organized a number of exhibitions for the museum. A Voyage to South America: Andean Art in the Spanish Empire (11 November 2014‚Äď21 February 2016) is a small-scale installation of paintings and works on paper produced in the Viceroyalty of Peru in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and early nineteenth centuries. This project brought me back to a field I engaged with earlier in my career as an Exhibition Coordinator at the Americas Society and in my graduate studies. According to our institutional archives, it was the Art Institute‚Äôs first presentation of paintings from the Viceregal period of the Spanish-governed Americas. This past year, I co-curated Whistler and Roussel: Linked Visions, an exhibition of works on paper that examined the nature of collaboration in late nineteenth-century London. For this project, co-curator Meg Hausberg and I developed a digital exhibition catalogue as well as a digital interactive program. Both experiences provided a great chance to learn about the merits and possibilities of digital publishing and pedagogical tools. I am currently preparing an exhibition featuring our etchings by Van Dyck, a long overlooked strength in our Dutch and Flemish holdings. Van Dyck, Rembrandt, and the Portrait Print will be on view from 5 March through 7 August, 2016, and it will be accompanied by an exhibition catalogue of the same name. It was a great pleasure to collaborate on this project with Maureen Warren, a former graduate fellow in our department, who is now the Curator of European and American Art at the Krannert Art Museum nearby (and a new member of CODART). I have also been delighted to work closely with members of our paper conservation team to study and provide the proper care for so many works in the exhibition, which have long gone unnoticed in our vaults.

In my previous post at the University of San Diego I served from 2009 through 2013 as the inaugural curator of the print collection, which was endowed by Robert and Karen Hoehn. While I was in the position, we established a print study room for which we acquired a reference library. We made additions to the collection that spanned the early sixteenth through mid-twentieth centuries, and we organized two print-focused exhibitions each academic year. I was delighted to receive the CODART study group in 2009 shortly after my arrival in San Diego, when I organized my first exhibition for the University titled Prints in the Artist’s Studio: Rubens’s Print Collection Reconstructed, which drew on my dissertation research and presented a selection of prints I believe Rubens owned. In my time at San Diego, I organized rotations from the permanent collection and other loan exhibitions, such as Atmospheres in Ink: Whistler and the Etching Revival and Passion and Virtuosity: Hendrick Goltzius and the Art of Engraving, which traveled to the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento and was accompanied by a modest catalogue co-authored with William Breazeale.

It was my great pleasure to receive another CODART study group this past October here at the Art Institute. For the visit, which was co-hosted by my colleagues in the European Painting and Sculpture department, we brought out selected highlights of our Dutch and Flemish drawings and prints. Among the selection were well-known masterworks as well as unattributed mysteries, and it was great fun to discuss some of these objects with fellow CODART members previously unfamiliar with our collection. The visit helped encourage me to continue researching the museum’s Dutch and Flemish drawings; we plan to present them together in an exhibition, once the collection has achieved the necessary critical mass.

I have always loved the intimacy of works on paper. My undergraduate studies at Yale University brought me into contact with rare printed books as well as contemporary artists’ books and photographs. At Williams College, where I completed a Master’s Degree in the graduate program based at the Clark Art Institute, I studied Spanish Baroque painting, but was drawn to the prints and drawings study room by a seminar on the history and theory of prints offered by then curator Jim Ganz. When I began my doctoral studies at Columbia University, I knew I wanted to concentrate on Netherlandish Baroque art under the supervision of David Freedberg, and a seminar at the Metropolitan Museum offered by Carmen Bambach began my love affair with Old Master drawings. I was delighted to spend the years of my dissertation research studying the prints and drawings of Peter Paul Rubens and his circle in all the major European and North American collections. The impact my teachers and mentors have had on me provides inspiration to share my love of prints and drawings with the interns, fellows, and volunteers who work in our department. We host approximately fifteen interns and fellows each year and have a volunteer corps of four to eight, depending on the season (fewer in winter!). Knowing that our current students and volunteers can become the scholars and collectors of the future gives immense meaning to my role as supervisor of our internship and volunteer program. The museum is also involved in a collaborative initiative to encourage object-based study among undergraduate and graduate art history students; it is a pleasure to contribute to that effort as well.

Hendrick Goltzius (1558-1617), Two Male Heads after the Antique, Probably the Sons of Laocoön, n.d. The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago

Hendrick Goltzius (1558-1617), Two Male Heads after the Antique, Probably the Sons of Laocoön, n.d. The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago

I am honored to work at a museum where the prints and drawings collection plays a major role in the presentation of our permanent collection, the content of our temporary exhibitions, and the realization of our pedagogical mission. Of the approximately 60,000 prints, drawings, and illustrated books in our collection, some 3,000 are seen each year‚ÄĒwhether in our galleries, in other museums‚Äô exhibitions, or in our study room. The visibility and prominence of our collection spring from long-standing traditions in Chicago of collecting and philanthropy; it is our great fortune that these two activities continue to engage prints and drawings at our museum.