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Arts Department, Special Collections

Introductory guide to special collections in fine arts, music, photography, prints & drawings.

Prints & Drawings

A Stag at Sharkeys

George Bellows (1882-1925). A Stag at Sharkey's, 1917.

Boston Public Library’s prints and drawings collection includes over 120,000 items from the 15th century to the present day. Collection strengths include examples of master printmakers and illustrators from the American, British, French, Old Master and Ukiyo-e traditions, children’s book illustrations, historic advertisements, war posters, and contemporary prints from Boston studios. Themes within the collections include Boston history, world travel, book illustration, architecture, advertising, portraits, politics and war, natural history, costume and fashion. We continue to collect works by contemporary artists that address contemporary issues and that connect to themes and subjects within our historic collections.

With all ranges of printmaking technology represented, we are able to demonstrate the development of printmaking over time including the techniques of etching, engraving, woodcut, wood engraving, lithography, screen printing, and digital techniques. Related sketchbooks, tools and matrices (the structure that artists use to create a print) help supplement our understanding of the artistic process.

***Materials in this collection include, but are not limited to:***

  • Drawings
  • Portfolios and Artist Books
  • Prints
  • Archival collections
  • Matrices

Adam and Eve Self portrait with plumed cap and lowered sabre

Albrecht Dürer, Adam and Eve (1504); Rembrandt van Rijn, Self Portrait with Plumed Cap and Lowered Sabre (1634) 

Old Master Prints 

Old Master prints form a small but notable part of the Library’s print collection. Included are prints by Albrecht Dürer, Rembrandt van Rijn, and Francisco Goya. The inclusion of Old Master prints provides the opportunity to study the history of printmaking from its earliest practice by European artists beginning in the 15th century.

 

La Troupe de Mademoiselle Eglantine, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, 1896

18th and 19th Century British, French, and American Prints 

The 18th and 19th centuries in England and France were periods of great social, political, and artistic change. Examples of artists represented from this time period include William Hogarth, Thomas Rowlandson, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and Mary Cassatt.

 

American Artists 1900-1960

The collection contains examples of American life and landscapes depicted by artists such as John Sloan, Reginald Marsh, and George Bellows, Frank Benson, Thomas Nason, Gustave Baumann, Isabel Bishop, and Kyra Markham.

     

From Here to There #11, Denzil Hurley, 1978

Boston Printmakers 

The Library holds collections that represent the development of printmaking from the 19th century to the present day. Boston has been an important center for printmaking in a commercial capacity, including the Louis Prang Company. With the turn of the 20th century, Boston artists established printmaking as a fine art medium. Area colleges and universities established printmaking programs, and a number of cooperative printmaking studios were formed. In 1947, The Boston Printmakers held their first meeting in the Library's Wiggin Gallery, and the 1960s saw the establishment of an area of the collection devoted to prints and drawings by contemporary Boston artists, building strong relationships that the Library continues to maintain today.

The Practice of Printmaking

Prints are created by a number of techniques that employ a variety of materials. The artist's creative process is brought to life by the inclusion in the Library's collection of a lithographic stone, copper plates for etchings and engravings, and blocks of wood for woodcuts and wood engravings that are related to works in the collection. Also included are examples of the tools used in etching and wood engraving and samples of some of the papers available to artists for printing.

***For more information on these collections, please inquire through arts@bpl.org***

Only 30% of Arts collections are available online. Researchers are encouraged to send their questions to arts@bpl.org

Step 1: Researchers interested in browsing a selection of Prints & Drawings collections generally are encouraged to search image sets found on the Boston Public Library's homepage on Digital Commonwealth. These sets are organized by the first name of the artist or subject. Click the following link forSearch tips.

Step 2: E-mail arts@bpl.org for further information.

  • If you do not find what you are looking for via Digital Commonwealth or have further questions about prints or drawings collections, please contact curatorial staff at arts@bpl.org.
  • Because a significant percentage of the prints and drawings collections have not been digitized or cataloged, we are always happy to initiate a search within the physical collection.

Good luck with your search, and we hope you enjoy getting to know our collections.

 

 

30% of Arts holdings are available through our online image repository Digital Commonwealth. Click on the image for examples of digitized prints and drawings collections: 

The assaut, or fencing matchThomas Rowlandson (English, 1756-1827). Rowlandson's prints, watercolors, and book illustrations satirize all aspects of the customs and politics of English society during the last quarter of the 18th and the first half of the 19th centuries.

 

 


 

La prochaine distribution de prix à L'Academie...Honoré Daumier (French, 1808-1879). Although also a painter and a sculptor, Daumier is best known for the lithographs he created for publication in the French popular press during the turbulent years between the Revolution of 1830 and the Franco-Prussian War.

 



 

 

La chaîne SimpsonHenri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864-1901). Lautrec regularly exhibited paintings and drawings throughout his career. However, he is best known for his lithographs and especially his posters, which celebrate cabarets and  performers active in the Montmartre district of Paris during the 1890s. 

 

 

Crown of New England

Louis Prang & Company (1860-1897). Louis Prang emigrated to the United States from Germany, settling first in New York and then in Boston, where in 1860 he established his own lithography firm. Between 1860 and 1897, Louis Prang & Company was one of the major publishers of chromolithographs in the United States.

 

 

The forgeJames McNeill Whistler (American, 1834-1903). Leaving the United States for Europe to pursue his artistic career, Whistler became a major figure in the revival of etching as a fine art that took place in France and England during the second half of the 19th century and was instrumental in introducing printmaking as a fine art to other American artists.

 

 

Business-men's classGeorge Bellows (American, 1882-1925). In 1904, George Bellows moved from Ohio to New York, where he studied painting with Robert Henri and then learned lithography, becoming one of the most respected American lithographers of the first half of the 20th century. His prints are some of the first to document the daily activities of the modern American city. 

 

 

DisCardsThe Boston Printmakers (1947-Present). Founded by a group of faculty and students at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston to promote the field of printmaking, The Boston Printmakers have had a close relationship with Boston Public Library since their first meeting, which was held in the Library's Wiggin Gallery in 1947.  

 

 

 

***For assistance with discovering and searching the prints and drawings collections, please e-mail arts@bpl.org.***

Bob Tomolillo (b. 1952). Boston Massacre with Crispus Attucks (2020).

Gift of the artist and Artists of Humanity, Boston.

 2021.26