Bowdoin College Museum of Art Launches its First Digital Catalogue

This scholarly resource, the first of its kind created by an academic art museum, examines 141 Old Master Drawings bequeathed by James Bowdoin III, one of the earliest collegiate collections in the country.

The landing page of the on-line catalogue, "Art Treasures, Gracefully Drawn."


The landing page of the online catalogue, “Art Treasures, Gracefully Drawn.”

The Bowdoin College Museum of Art is pleased to announce the launch of the Museum’s first online scholarly catalogue, Art Treasures, Gracefully Drawn: James Bowdoin III and America’s Earliest Drawing Collection. The catalogue, made possible by generous funding from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation and an anonymous donor, highlights the 141 Old Master drawings assembled by the founder of Bowdoin College, James Bowdoin III, whose bequest to the College in 1811 established one of the earliest collegiate collections in the country.

The fully-illustrated digital catalogue provides a scholarly introduction to the collection and detailed entries on each of the drawings. The entries may be searched and sorted by title, artist, or nationality. The catalogue delivers five categories of information for each drawing: Marks and Inscriptions, Provenance, Exhibition History, Bibliography, and Commentary, which includes curatorial insights about each work. In addition, each entry is accompanied by a high-resolution reproduction downloadable at no charge, which allows viewers to examine any section of the drawing in vivid detail. Unlike a traditional publication, the online catalogue will be updated continually with new curatorial information.

Art Treasures, Gracefully Drawn: James Bowdoin III and America’s Earliest Drawing Collection was made possible by a grant from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation. This external funding enabled the Museum invite scholar Sarah Cantor, Adjunct Assistant Professor at University of Maryland University College, to the Museum during the summer of 2015. Cantor built on the research conducted by the late David P. Becker, a member of Bowdoin’s Class of 1970, who published his Old Master Drawings at Bowdoin College in 1985. Cantor’s expertise in European old master drawing and in developing and maintaining digital tools for art history made her an ideal collaborator with museum staff, art history faculty, and information technology specialists at Bowdoin College in realizing this project.

“This online catalogue represents an extraordinary interdisciplinary accomplishment, combining many areas of expertise,” observes Anne Collins Goodyear, co-director of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art. “It both highlights and renders more accessible one of the foundational art collections for the museum and the nation, and it also demonstrates the ability of a small institution to create a robust and engaging digital resource which extends the reach of its resources around the globe, inviting new interpretations of its holdings.”

The electronic resource has significance that stretches well beyond the museum. “The BCMA digital Old Master Drawings catalogue demonstrates the great potential of curatorial publishing beyond the confines of print,” notes Crystal Hall, co-director, Digital and Computational Studies Initiative and associate professor of digital humanities at Bowdoin College. “The team has established an impressive critical, bibliographic, and archival resource.”

James Bowdoin’s gift, upon his death in 1811, of 141 drawings, 68 paintings, and 11 prints to the institution he founded in 1794 was groundbreaking, making Bowdoin College only the second educational institution in the country, after Dartmouth, to develop a collegiate collection. While the drawings have long been celebrated by curators and art historians at Bowdoin, and cherished by a small circle of experts, they are less well-known amongst the general public. The online catalogue will give new visibility to James Bowdoin III’s drawing collection and to highlight the important role played by Bowdoin as a pioneering collector of the fine arts in the United States.

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