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The Art Collections at The Huntington

The Huntington’s art collections focus on two distinct areas—European art from the 15th to the early 20th century, and American art from the late 17th to the mid-20th century. The collection of 18th-century British and French works is considered one of the finest in the nation. The holdings continue to grow by gift and purchase, with especially significant acquisitions both in European and American art in recent years.

 

The Huntington aims to offer a high level of information and interpretation in its permanent galleries, supplemented by a program of special exhibitions, publications, and educational outreach. The Huntington takes an active part in the international network of institutions that organize major exhibitions

 


European Art

Joshua Reynolds, Sarah Siddons as the Tragic Muse, British 1783-1784

Established by Henry E. Huntington in 1908, The Huntington’s collection of European art presently numbers about 420 paintings, 370 sculptures, 2,500 objects of decorative art, and some 20,000 prints and drawings.

 

British Art

The Huntington’s collection of British art of the 18th and early 19th century is considered to be one of the greatest in the nation. Many of the best works by the most important English painters of the period are large formal portraits, and the collection includes 18 such works by Thomas Gainsborough (1727–1788), Thomas Lawrence (1769–1830), Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723–1792), George Romney (1734–1802), and others, including Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy (ca. 1770) and Karl Friedrich Abel (ca. 1777), Lawrence’s Pinkie (1794), and Reynolds’ Sarah Siddons as the Tragic Muse (1783–84).

 

The years around 1800 saw the rise of landscape painting with the beginning of the meteoric career of J. M. W. Turner (1775–1851). By the 1820s, John Constable (1776–1837) had also emerged as a major innovative force in European landscape painting. Both artists are represented in the collection by important works from the high point of their careers, including Constable’s monumental View on the Stour near Dedham (1822).

 

There are also strong collections of British sculpture, miniature portraits, and 18th-century English furniture. In 1999, a large collection of works relating to William Morris was purchased, establishing a new focus on the Design Reform movement from the 1840s through the early 20th century.

 

Now numbering approximately 14,000 the collection of British drawings and watercolors was founded on the purchase en bloc of two major English collections, the first especially rich in English landscape watercolors, and the second in works by 17th- and early-18th-century artists working in Britain. The most famous part of the collection is the extraordinary gathering of original watercolors and hand-colored illustrations by William Blake (1757–1827), assembled by Huntington himself.

 

French Art

The Huntington’s collection of French art, mostly from the 18th century, is one of the most significant in the United States and highly characteristic of the taste for grand siècle style among American millionaires in the early 20th century. A group of objects—including a set of Beauvais tapestries after designs by François Boucher (1703–1770) and major French ormolu-mounted furniture—is installed in the large library of the Huntington Art Gallery, where the star objects are two of the great Savonnerie carpets designed for the fabled redecoration of the Louvre palace by Louis XIV after he took over the reins of power from his mother in the 1660s.

 

Another strong collection is that of French sculpture, which consists of marbles, bronzes, and terra-cottas, mostly from the late 18th century. There are two major pieces by Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741–1828): the original life-size bronze first exhibited in 1782 of Diana the Huntress and the great marble portrait bust of Madame de Vermenoux (1777), both part of the Arabella D. Huntington Memorial Art Collection, assembled by Huntington in his wife’s memory just before he himself died.

 

The 18th-century French painting collection, the bequest of Judge Lucius Green in 1978, includes some brilliant examples of work by leading artists of the ancien régime (the pre-French Revolution social order), such as François Boucher, Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732–1806), Jean-Baptiste Greuze (1725–1805), Nicolas Lancret (1690–1743), and Antoine Watteau (1684–1721).

 

Other European Art

With an interest in representing those who influenced British painters, The Huntington holds works by Flemish artists such as Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641), who had a strong influence on English portraiture in the 18th century and is represented in the collection with the full-length Anne (Killigrew) Kirke (ca. 1637). City views by Antonio Canaletto (1697–1768), who worked in England, together with Francesco Guardi (1712–1793) and Bernardo Bellotto (1720–1780), were collected by Englishmen as souvenirs of their “grand tours; ”all three artists are represented by characteristic works.

 

A small group of Renaissance paintings, also in the Arabella Huntington Collection, has as its centerpiece the beautiful Virgin and Child (ca. 1460) by the Netherlandish master Rogier van der Weyden (1399/1400–1464). The Italian paintings include two panels showing courtly life in the late 15th century by the Stratonice Master, named after these panels, together with altar pieces of the 15th and 16th centuries, and two lyrical Florentine portraits by Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449–1494).

 

The Huntington’s Renaissance bronzes, many of them bought from the Pierpont Morgan Collection, form a particularly fine group around the famous Nessus and Deianira, a spectacular cast of a famous work by Giambologna (1529–1608) bearing the master’s signature.

 

American Art

Begun in 1979 with a major gift from the Virginia Steele Scott Foundation, the American art holdings presently number about 230 paintings, 50 works of sculpture, 950 decorative art pieces, 6,500 prints and drawings, and 1,750 photographs.

 

Paintings

The American paintings collection covers the range of works produced from the colonial period and the first years of the republic through the antebellum period, the post–Civil War era, and the late 19th and mid-20th centuries. It includes important paintings by Frederic Edwin Church (1826–1900), John Singleton Copley (1738–1815), Thomas Eakins (1844–1916), Samuel L. “Sam” Francis (1923–1994), Robert Motherwell (1915–1991), John Singer Sargent (1856–1925), John Sloan (1871–1951), Robert Rauschenberg (1925–2008), and Andy Warhol (1928–1987). Famous highlights include Mary Cassatt’s (1845–1926) intimate Breakfast in Bed (1897) and Edward Hopper’s (1882–1967) evocative sailing scene, The Long Leg (ca. 1930). The collection emphasizes portraiture and history painting of the 18th century; landscape, still life, and genre painting in the 19th century; and social realism, regionalism, and abstraction in the 20th century.

 

Sculpture

American sculpture at The Huntington is represented by such memorable works as Chauncey Bradley Ives’ (1810–1894) life-size marble Pandora (1858) and Zenobia in Chains (1859) by Harriet Hosmer (1830–1908), the recently rediscovered sculpture that has seemed to typify the achievement of American women sculptors in the later 19th century. Twentieth-century American sculpture includes William Hunt Diederich’s (1884–1953) Antelope and Hound (1916) and Paul Manship’s (1885–1966) Morning, Day, and Evening from his symbolic bronze Moods of Time series (1938).

 

Decorative Art

Period furniture and silver provide a domestic context for The Huntington’s American paintings and sculpture. A renowned collection of works by the American Arts and Crafts architects Charles and Henry Greene is a permanent part of the installation, including a complete re-creation of the dining room from the Robinson House (1905) and a mahogany and oak staircase with brass inlays made for the Arthur A. Libby House (1905, and since demolished). Other highlights include a cabinet (1904) by Ralph Whitehead’s Byrdcliffe Arts Colony, fine examples of works from Tiffany Studios, as well as works of ceramic and metals, including the Mrs. John Emerson Marble collection of early American silver.

 

Prints, Drawings, and Photographs

The Huntington’s expanding collection of American prints, drawings, and photographs spans the entire collection period, with highlights including a series of 11 evocative collages by Joseph Cornell (1903–1972) and 12 drawings by Robert Motherwell from his Lyric Suite series (1965). The collection recently has been enriched by the promised gifts of the John Sloan collection of Gary, Brenda, and Harrison Ruttenberg and the American print collection of Hannah S. Kully.

 

Seminal photographs by Edward Weston (1886–1958) join quality groups of prints by Ansel Adams (1904–1984), Alma Lavenson (1897–1989), and many others to make California and the West a major strength within The Huntington’s photographs collection.

About The Huntington

The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens is a collections-based research and educational institution established in 1919 by Henry E. and Arabella Huntington. Henry Huntington, a key figure in the...

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