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About

THE PERMANENT COLLECTION

There are six components to the Museum’s permanent collection of approximately 13,000 objects:

• 18th- through 21st-century American paintings, sculpture, watercolors and drawings
• 19th- and 20th-century European paintings and sculpture
• 19th-century American decorative arts
• Western graphic art from the 15th century to the present
• Asian ceramics, metalware, lacquerware, ivory, furniture and works on paper from the 16th century to the present
• The Thomas and Frederick Proctor collections of European watches and timepieces from the late 16th-century through the early 20th-century.

The collection has its origins in the taste and interests of the Williams and Proctor families. They collected contemporary European and American paintings, sculpture and works on paper, American and Asian furniture, Western and Asian decorative arts and historical European watches and timepieces until the death of the last of the Institute's founders in 1935.

The first efforts to expand the collection began after World War II. This initiative received an important boost in the 1950s when the collector Edward Wales Root donated three collections to the Museum: European Old Master and modern prints; Japanese prints; and American modernist paintings, drawings and prints. Root's most important gift of approximately 250 20th-century American paintings, drawings and prints was a defining moment in the Museum's history, equal in importance to the gifts of art from the Institute's founders. This was one of the greatest donations in modern American art ever given to an art museum up to that time. It thrust the Museum into the forefront of institutions in the United States in the field of American modernism. In the 1950s the Museum also began a systematic and well-funded effort to assemble a collection of European modernism. Works were acquired over several decades but with decreasing frequency as market conditions made such acquisitions increasingly difficult. Today this collection (excluding drawings and prints) is comprised of 24 paintings, sculptures, pastel and collage works representing most of the important European art movements of the early 20th century. In New York State it is one of the two finest public collections of this type outside of New York City and has the added and, perhaps unique, distinction of having been purposefully assembled as a contextual counterpoint to Root's American modernist collection.

The parameters of the decorative arts collection were established in the late 1950s in preparation for Fountain Elms opening as a historic house museum in 1960. Some of the furniture owned by the Institute’s founders was disposed and examples of furniture by a number of then relatively unfashionable American cabinetmakers were acquired. The furniture collection has continued to be refined and upgraded over the years. Today, it includes examples by nearly every important 19th-century American cabinetmaker. The Museum is recognized for its pioneering role in the collecting, researching and publication of this material, as well as its exhibition and interpretation in period room settings.

The Museum's historical American painting collection is also widely recognized for its breadth and quality, with a particular strength in works by the Hudson River School. This collection began with a small group of works acquired by the founders. Additional works were acquired at a steady pace until the early 1980s when market conditions began to limit the frequency with which works are added to the collection.

The Museum’s Asian art collection has two defining components: The Proctors’ collection of approximately 75 19th- and early 20th-century Japanese ceramics, metalwork, lacquerware and ivory, as well as 19th- and early 20th-century Chinese ceramics, silver, lacquerware, ivory, furniture and rugs; and the Edward Wales Root collection of approximately 120 Edo- and Meiji-era Japanese prints. The Asian objects acquired by the Proctors exemplify an important aspect of late 19th- and early 20th-century American taste. This material also serves as an interpretive complement to the Museum’s American decorative arts. The Root collection of Japanese prints is noteworthy for its chronological breadth, excellent condition and the broad range of artists it contains. Approximately thirty different printmakers are represented with multiple examples by a number of the most important. Most date from the 18th and first half of the 19th century, a period considered the golden age of Japanese printmaking. Very little is currently known about why Root assembled this collection; however, because of his strong interest in modernism, Root was no doubt aware of the significant role Japanese printmaking played in the development of avant-garde Western art.

In the early 1980s the Museum began an initiative to build an important collection of historical American drawings that is noteworthy for the high aesthetic quality of each sheet as well as the breadth and range of the artists represented. It is one of only a very few public institutions in the United States actively collecting pre-1900 American drawings. This collection is a logical complement to its collection of American paintings and decorative arts.

Finally, the 300-piece Proctor collection of historical European watches and timepieces is one of the largest and most important of its type in the United States that is still intact. Spanning three centuries, it illustrates the evolution of horology as watches evolved over the centuries from jeweled status symbols to precision timekeepers. The collection is significant for the finely crafted and ornamented cases executed with a degree of craftsmanship that is comparable to the high levels of craftsmanship found in the Museum's other fine and decorative arts collections.

Browsing the Online Collection

There are a few ways to browse the Online Collection:

Homepage/Collections

On the homepage, you can browse curated selections from our collection.

People Page

On the people page, you can browse individuals and/or institutions related to objects in the collection, along with relevant biographies and objects.

Searching the Online Collection

Quick Search/Advanced Search

Enter keywords or names in the search box (Quick Search) to find objects or other records in our collection. To search on specific criteria, you can use the advanced search to search within certain data fields. You can search using multiple criteria, such as the term "portrait" in the title + a date range of "1800-1900". If you are not getting any results with advanced search, try broadening your search by removing criteria.

Search Tips
  • You can use an * (asterisk) as a wildcard in searches, to match partial terms (e.g. draw* will return results for draw, drawn, drawings, etc.)
  • Use quotation marks to get more exact results - e.g. John Doe will return any results with John or Doe, but "John Doe" will return results with this exact phrase.

Viewing Search Results

Types of Results

There are different types of search results, such as object records and people records. When there is more than one type of result, you can click on these different tabs to view different types of records.

GRID/LIST VIEWS

You can view a set of results in an image grid or list view. Use the dropdown to switch between different types of views.

Filter Panel

You can refine a result set by opening the filter panel and using filters to narrow down results. For example, you can filter to see only works that have images within any result set. You can also clear each filter to revert to a larger result set, or clear all filters to get to your original result set.

Info Panel

The info panel, when available, contains additional information related to a search or set of objects.

Images

Why is an image shown as not available?

An image may be shown as not available if it is not yet available in our database, or if it cannot be displayed for copyright reasons.