Drawings in the Cleveland Museum of Art (from Drawing, VIII, 6 (March-April 1987)

Michael Miller

Of the over 1800 drawings kept in the Department of Prints and Drawings at the Cleveland Museum of Art, somewhat less than half are the work of modern American artists and the remainder are by major Europeans, ranging in date from the fourteenth century "Crucifixion" attributed to Altichiero to nudes by Modigliani and Picasso and a David Smith study for a "Cubi" sculpture.(1) The French are the most numerous, especially rich in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Next are the Italians. The museum is especially fortunate in its rare fifteenth century sheets by Mantegna, Filippo Lippi and others, as well as in its eighteenth century Venetians. The Dutch and Flemish drawings are fewer in number, but include two Rubens, three Rembrandt, and a representative selection of the best seventeenth century landscapists. The Germans are also distinguished by a few outstanding artists, for example Hans Holbein the Elder, Altdorfer, and Duerer, as well as a miscellaneous selection of later artists. Nineteenth century German drawings have been collected systematically since 1970. There is a small concentration of Grosz. The English, while the weakest of the lot, contain a Constable and a major Turner watercolor. The Americans include many of the most important twentieth century sculptors and painters, but the largest group consists of regional artists little known today. On the whole the only artists represented in any concentration are the local figures, Sommer, Keller, and Burchfield. From all schools there is a fair number of ornamental drawings, but very few architectural studies. Several drawings are related to paintings and prints in the museum.

The trait which binds the collection together as a whole is its exceptional quality. Traditionally the museum has never collected for art-historical comprehensiveness or for a full study collection, but rather for well-preserved major statements, intended to delight as much as to instruct. This is more often found in a private collection than in an institutional collection, but it is characteristic of the Cleveland Museum since its foundation. The large representation of local artists is equally typical. William Milliken, director of the museum from 1930 until 1958, was especially committed to supporting living artists, mostly by providing models of the highest quality, but also by providing a forum for the recognition of their work. A strong New Dealer and supporter of the WPA, he saw the May Show, the annual competition for local artists, as a means to help them to survive the Depression. In this way a few of the May Show winners have found their way into the permanent collection.

The Cleveland drawing collection, although its evolution has taken different courses at different times, nonetheless reflects clearly the mentality of the founders of the museum even today. In this the uncompromising taste of the informed private collector was motivated and disciplined by a robust consciousness of civic responsibility. Certain of the founders and early patrons of the museum enjoyed inherited wealth. Others were self-made men. Both elements were aware that the museum should not merely provide instructional material but should also make the pleasures of the best art in all its forms -- including textiles, furniture, and other decorative arts, as well as music -- available to a wide public in an esthetically coherent ensemble. In gestation through the latter half of the nineteenth century, during which occasional exhibitions (notable for their ambition and exotic miscellany) were organized at irregular intervals, the museum came to fruition at the beginning of the most recent phase of prosperity and urban growth in Cleveland -- the time of the planning of the downtown public buildings, the Terminal Tower, and Shaker Heights. While the elitism of some of the founders shows itself in the quality of the collection, a populist current asserted itself in the insistence of the famous mayor, Tom Johnson, that admission be free to all, before a building permit would be granted. Although not consistently carried out in the early years, it is today. It is important to understand that availability to the public has always been a primary concern, for prints, drawings, and textiles as well as for other, less fragile forms of art. The collection was never envisaged as a restricted archive for a narrow audience of specialists, rather in terms of rotating exhibitions, which would meet the needs of the public at large and also protect the works of art.

Drawings and prints were almost totally neglected during the first few years of the museum. The predilections of local patrons then determined that prints would take the initiative. Dudley P. Allen, one of the strongest early supporters of the museum and a devoted collector of prints, died soon after its foundation and could only leave behind a bequest, which afterwards became one of the major resources for the purchase of prints and drawings. Active collecting, however, first began in 1919, when Ralph King founded the Print Club of Cleveland and began his two-year service as volunteer curator of prints. At his death in 1926, King's collection of prints and a few drawings became the seed of the young collection.(2)

Ralph King was in a way the Paul Sachs of Cleveland, but circumstances in Sachs development and the differing institutional purposes of the Fogg and the Cleveland Museum determined that their contributions should be different. Sachs, because of limited means after his departure from his father's banking firm, was first a collector of prints, like King. Only several years after his appointment as Assistant Director of the Fogg Museum did he acquire a passion for drawings -- from the painter and collector Leon Bonnat.(3) Sachs built a comprehensive collection of superb drawings, both through his own collecting and through the bequests of other collectors, like Charles Loeser. Study drawings were also welcome, since the purpose of the collection was to train young art historians, curators, and collectors in connoisseurship. The Cleveland Museum was intended rather to make the fruits of connoisseurship available to the public.

Ralph King, in any case, remained primarily a print man. His successor as curator of prints (and Oriental art), Theodore Sizer, a pupil of Sachs, had a keen appreciation of drawing, but means were scarce. In an effort to extend the range of the small collection and to serve the educational aims of the museum, he purchased facsimiles, which were matted and kept in Solander boxes with the regular collection until they were transferred to the library well after the Second World War. His own words sum up the situation in the mid-twenties: "Of all the visual arts, drawing is the most fundamental. It is the starting point for painter, sculptor, and architect alike. The Museum in common with the great museums of Europe and America is trying very hard to build up and strengthen its collection of drawings. An excellent beginning has been made."(4) Nonetheless the drawing collection first got fully underway in 1927 through the efforts of another Sachs product, Henry S. Francis.

The drawings collection at the Cleveland Museum thus developed somewhat later than the other great collections in the United States. (Many of the greatest sheets, in fact, came into the collection after the Second World War.) Nonetheless its conception occurred in the context of the formation of the drawings collections in Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Pierpont Morgan Library and the Fogg. Because of the roles of Sizer and Francis, it is in any case clear that the impulse came from Sachs at the Fogg. Drawings had not really been collected seriously in this country until the twentieth century, although some collections like that at Bowdoin College and the Crocker Museum had been purchased abroad en bloc by private individuals. The drawings collection at the Museum of Modern Art began in this way in 1880, when Cornelius Vanderbilt purchased a collection of 670 Old Master drawings from the colorful James Jackson Jarves, then a marchand amateur in Florence. (In Cleveland the Liberty E. Holden collection of Italian primitive painting comes from the same source.) Most of these were Italian and wildly optimistic in attribution. Only in 1906, at the suggestion of J. Pierpont Morgan, when Roger Fry was called to New York, did the systematic collecting of drawings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and in the United States as a whole begin. In 1910 Morgan acquired the nucleus of his own collection en bloc from Fairfax Murray in Florence. Paul Sachs turned to drawings after the First World War and negotiated the Bequest of Charles Loeser's collection to the Fogg in 1929. The Havermeyer Collection came to the Metropolitan in 1930.

Henry Francis came to Cleveland in 1927 as curator of prints. He returned to the Fogg for a year as assistant to the director, during which time he remained actively involved in the Cleveland Museum. Then, in 1929 he returned as curator of paintings and prints and remained until 1967. During his long career at Cleveland Francis was active primarily in paintings and drawings. Prints were delegated to Leona G. Prasse, who built that part of the collection in a formidable way.

Sizable purchases of French drawings in 1927 and of Italian and Dutch drawings in 1929, together with an important exhibition in 1927, marked the beginning of vigorous activity in drawings at Cleveland. As in 1924, the only slightly larger museum holdings were supplemented with loans, this time from the Pierpont Morgan and Sachs collections, dealers like Knoedler, Wildenstein, and De Hauke, the Print Club, and many local collectors. In this way the old master drawings in the exhibition were virtually a global representation of institutional collecting of drawings in America at the time. These, however, were almost outnumbered by the contemporary drawings. Some of these were by artists who now have an established place in the hierarchy of modernism. Others were by American and foreign artists who are totally obscure today. In this way the initiation of the Cleveland Museum into drawings adumbrated the make-up of the collection sixty years later. It further demonstrates how the Cleveland collection was indeed an organic, if late developing part of the major public drawings collections in America.

After this the Cleveland drawings collection continued to grow in irregular bursts. Acquisitions have never been planned around any systematic principle. After the early years the museum has not sought entire collections either as gifts or as purchases. Since acquisition funds are drawn from a common pool, the department has found itself alternately with ample resources for major purchases or short of funds, if they have been drawn by another department. In this way quality has been maintained in all departments at the museum. At Cleveland the tastes of directors have mattered as much as those of curators. Therefore the drawing collection owes less to individual figures like Fairfax Murray, Janos Scholz, Paul Sachs, or Grenville Winthrop than to the combined efforts of directors and curators like William Milliken, Henry Francis, Sherman Lee, Leona Prasse, and Louise Richards, whose collective interests have embraced decorative arts, painting, Oriental art, prints, and of course drawings. The highly cultivated connoisseurship of these people and their long tenure at the museum, as well as the tradition of interaction among the staff as a whole, have paradoxically given the collection much of the flair of a private collection.

Individual collectors have in fact played a significant role in the growth of the collection, but these donations have always extended the main body into new regions rather than influenced its overall character. The drawings from the Norweb Collection have an intimate, decorative character. The great Michelangelo study sheet, which bears a powerful red chalk nude for the Sistine ceiling was given to the museum in 1940 by the heirs of Henry B. Dalton, a self-made steel, railroad, and shipping man, who became an important civic leader as well as a collector of fine taste and extensive knowledge. An interesting miscellaneous collection formed by Daniel A. Huebsch was given to the museum by his heir Robert Hays Gries, who also gave a major collection of books to the Cleveland Public Library -- a collection devoted to his primary interests, chess, tobacco, and the history of prostitution. Finally the Print Club of Cleveland, one of the primary supports of the print collection, has also shown a lively interest in drawings as well, and this has been reflected in their generosity.

Dealers have also left their mark on the collection. Before jet travel the curators were considerably less mobile than today and depended on dealers to an even greater extent than now. Furthermore the museum has always tended to cultivate long-term relationships with dealers. Above all, Herbert Zinsser stands out, who year by year brought many of the Liechtenstein prints to Cleveland, as well as some major drawings. William Milliken was the only member of the staff who regularly visited Europe. He spent the summer of every year in Venice. Presumably during one of these visits he met the Venetian dealer Italico Brass, who in the 1930's sold the museum most of its G. B. Piazzetta and Domenico Tiepolo Punchinello drawings.

Otherwise few drawings were acquired during the Depression. It was only after the Second World War that the museum returned to the vigor of Henry Francis' 1929 acquisitions. The title of the department was quietly changed from the Department of Prints to the Department of Prints and Drawings in 1953. The growth continued into the early 1980's. Louise S. Richards, recently retired Chief Curator of Prints and Drawings, has found many important drawings for the collection, notably Federigo Barocci's "Flight of Aeneas from Troy" and the delicate "Study of Plants above a Riverbank". Other high points have been the acquisition of five drawings from the Moscardo Collection in 1956 and the Von Hirsch Sale in 1977, when Sherman Lee successfully bid for the Rembrandt portrait of Shah Jehan and a Raphael study sheet from the so-called Pink Sketchbook. In recent years Hilliard Goldfarb, former Assistant Curator of Prints and Drawings, acquired a Claude "Pastoral Scene with Classical Figures" from the Norton Simon album and a study for Poussin's "Extreme Unction".

The arrangement of the Department of Prints and Drawings and of its exhibition space has changed many times over the years. At present there are two corridors with glass cases which extend in opposite directions from a central hallway. Each of the corridors connects with a rectangular exhibition room. One of these has glass cases; the other free wall space. This arrangement provides a good deal of flexibility. Recently the department has often displayed the museum collection in two parallel exhibitions of some seventy to ninety pieces each. Usually these are mixed exhibitions that include prints and drawings together, but occasionally photographs as well. Since the collection is not large and once a print or drawing is shown it is not used again for two years, this has proven a useful formula for rotating the collection, which is stimulating for both the staff and the public alike. The subjects of these exhibitions are various. For example, in 1986, Charles Eiben, Technical Assistant in the department prepared and exhibition on a nautical theme, while Karen Shafts, now at the Boston Public Library, offered an exhibition of book illustrations. In December 1986 in-house exhibitions were separated between prints and drawings for the first time in several years. Louise Richards presented an exhibition illustrating the similarity in quality between reproductive and original prints, and the present writer displayed some eighty Italian drawings from the permanent collection.

The latter exhibition will show perhaps more vividly than a survey of the collection as a whole the particular character of the Cleveland collection. While it included a large proportion of the finest drawings in the collection, it comprised slightly more than half the total group. A number of important drawings could not be included for reasons of space or exposure, but most are of decorative or scholarly interest. As great as the Florentines, Bolognese, and eighteenth century Venetians are, the Neapolitans and the Milanese are almost totally absent.

In the future we hope to fill gaps like these and to develop in new directions as well. Contemporary drawings are among our primary interests. While we consolidate the old masters, we are reaching for fresh growth to plant new fields.


(1) This account owes much to departmental files, the Cleveland Museum of Art Bulletin, and to oral tradition. In the future Louise Richards hopes to research the museum files more fully, in order to lay the foundations for a more detailed history of the collection.
(2) For a description of King's activities, see CMA Bulletin, 1927, p. 96.
(3) Memorial Exhibition. Works of Art from the Collection of Paul J. Sachs (1878-1965), Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 1965, Introduction by Agnes Mongan, p. 10.
(4) CMA Bulletin 1925, p. 49