May 5, 2006 —In celebration of a promised gift of the Frederick and Lucy S. Herman Foundation Drawing Collection — consisting of some 250 old master and modern European and American drawings, ranging in date from the 15th to the 20th centuries — the University of Virginia Art Museum has placed a selection of these major works on view through June 18. The exhibition is the first in a series drawn from the collection in conjunction with connoisseurship seminars in the McIntire Department of Art. These smaller surveys will culminate in a major exhibition of the collection in 2009.
“Although the museum has very fine print holdings, until now we have lacked an equally significant collection of drawings,” museum director Jill Hartz said. The Herman Collection is extraordinary in its scale, chronological arc and geographical breadth and represents the importance of drawing as the foundation of all the arts and the most spontaneous stage of artistic expression. “In addition to their importance as original works of art, the drawings are equally valued here for their teaching potential,” Hartz added.
The Hermans always described their collecting activity as a long succession of separate acts of judgment and taste, rather than as the expression of any overarching or preconceived plan, noted Matthew Affron, exhibition curator and director of special curatorial projects at the museum. “It is fascinating, nevertheless, to weigh up the collection’s conspicuous points of focus,” Affron said.
Frederick Herman provided a very short list of the collection’s themes in a 1978 letter to the museum. “I am enclosing a list of the drawings in our collection,” Herman wrote. “I think you could organize something on either ‘figure drawings,’ ‘caricatures,’ ‘19th century German romantics,’ etc.”
The works on exhibit highlight some of these themes — figure drawing, landscapes, characters and caricatures, and modern realists. The exhibition also is designed to give a larger sense of the breadth, depth and overall shape of the collection — a substantial compilation of works exhibiting some five centuries' worth of continuity and change in Western art.
The Herman gift, said Affron, is a major acquisition for the University of Virginia Art Museum and will significantly enhance teaching in the McIntire Department of Art and its Lindner Center for Art History. In particular, the promised gift provides examples of works by artists not previously represented in the museum’s permanent collection. It also expands enormously the museum’s existing holdings in American, British, Dutch and Flemish, French, German and Austrian, and Italian art. In addition, the collection offers a wonderful complement to the body of old master prints that has been amassed over the past 25 years, thanks to private gifts and the Curriculum Support Fund.
This generous promised gift is the culmination of a long relationship between the University of Virginia Art Museum and the donors, Lucy S. Herman and her late husband, Frederick Herman, and their daughter and U.Va. alumna Fredrika Herman Jacobs, who earned her Ph.D. in art history in 1979. This association began in 1976 with the Hermans’ donation of an Italian painting of the late 16th century, “Portrait of a Gentleman” (currently on view in the museum’s pre-20th century Western art gallery). The relationship continued with the museum’s presentation of special exhibitions drawn from the Herman collection: “Landscape Drawings of the Sixteenth Through the Twentieth Century” in 1977 and “Figure Drawings” in 1980. Two years ago, Lucy Herman gave the museum an unusual two-sided drawing by Benjamin West, entitled “Equestrian Rider.”
Other works collected by Frederick and Lucy S. Herman are now in the collections of the Muscarelle Museum of Art at the College of William and Mary, the University Gallery at the University of Delaware and the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Va.
For more information about the exhibition and the University of Virginia Art Museum, call (434) 924-3592.