Art Libraries Society of
Session XXIII: Expanding the Canon: Women Collectors and the Arts
Moderator and Recorder: Sara Harrington, Art Librarian,
Sharon Wasserman, Director of the Library and
“Guardians of Culture: A History of Women Art Patrons and Collectors”
S. Wasserman engaged in an historical overview of women collectors often overlooked in the canon of Western art history, including Catherine the Great of Russia, Josephine of France, Isabella Stewart Gardner, and Alice Pike Barney. She detailed the history of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, including its founding by Wilhelmina Cole Holladay, who began collecting the work of women artists in the 1960s.
Today, the National Museum of Women in the Arts is engaged in an effort to document the achievement of women in the arts and to ensure that women artists receive recognition and attention. S.
Wasserman also pointed to important recent bibliography on women collectors including Charlotte Gere’s Great Women Collectors (Abrams, 1999) and Beyond Isabella: Secular Women Patrons of Art in Renaissance Italy (Truman State University Press, 2001).
Susan Nurse, Visual Resources Coordinator and Assistant Librarian,
“Women Patrons of the Avant-Garde:
S. Nurse chronicled twentieth-century women collectors who put their money where their beliefs were. S. Nurse focused on Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, who entered the world of art as an artist, and opened her studio as an exhibition space for fellow artists. Whitney offered to donate some 200 works of art to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and when denied, formed the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1931. S. Nurse also addressed the collector Katherine Dreier, who was guided in her collection efforts by Marcel Duchamp, and was the artist’s principal patron. Dreier wanted to establish a museum to educate the public about modern art. She
founded the Société Anonyme, Inc., with Man
Ray and Marcel Duchamp, and put on 83 exhibitions of
73 artists, including the first shows of Paul Klee,
Vladimir Tatlin, and others. She bought works of art from these
exhibitions both for the Société and for her own
collection, but ran out of funds by 1924.
Dreier curated a final show for the Brooklyn
Museum of Art in 1926; subsequently the collection went to
S. Nurse also addressed the collection efforts of Lilly Bliss (who
with Abby Aldrich Rockefeller founded the Museum of Modern Art), Hilla Rebay, (who influenced the
Dr. Ferris Olin, Head,
“The Collection as Self-Portrait”
F. Olin explored the collection of the work of women artists
established by Iowan Louise Rosenfield Noun. Louise Noun?s experiences of sexism and anti-Semitism guided her
actions and her life. Noun collected
exclusively the work of women artists, a collection that functioned as an aide-mémoire, representing her own experiences as a member of
marginalized groups. Noun’s mother
encouraged her intellectual endeavors; Noun studied with Paul Sachs at Harvard,
later returning to
Ruth Bowman, Art Historian and Collector
“Seeking the ‘I’ in the ‘Eye’ of the Artist”
Ruth Bowman’s collection of artist’s self-portraits, built in collaboration with Harry Kahn, often asks the question, “What’s on the mind of the artist?” Harry Kahn and Ruth Bowman frequented galleries together, and established a collection comprising 187 works of 146 artists, all built on the notion of teaching. The collection now belongs to the National Portrait Gallery, which is currently undergoing renovation and will reopen in 2006. R. Bowman showed numerous self-portraits by Louis Losowick, Andy Warhol, Thomas Hart Benton, Jim Dine, and other artists, focusing those that represented themes in or aspects of the collection, such as “young and old,” “the hands” and “the glance.”