Published: May 15, 2007
Renowned curator, collector, art historian and professor of American art John Wilmerding revealed at a May 4, 2007, reception and dinner in honor of his retirement that he is the previously anonymous donor of a major gift of Pop Art to the Princeton University Art Museum.
It also was announced that, in recognition of his distinguished career, more than 100 donors have collectively purchased a painting by Rubens Peale, which will become a part of the museum’s permanent collection.
Princeton University President Shirley M. Tilghman also announced that a major gift of $1 million, along with a challenge grant of $750,000, has been made for a new endowed museum curatorship. The benefactor, who wishes to remain anonymous, has given the gift in honor of Wilmerding; the endowed curatorship will be titled the John Wilmerding Curator of American Art.
“For 20 years John Wilmerding has advanced the growth and appreciation of American art at Princeton,” museum director Susan M. Taylor said, “and it is especially appropriate that this curatorship be established in his name.”
The museum’s collection of American art was formed under the visionary leadership of Frank Jewett Mather Jr, and its history is intertwined with Princeton’s pioneering role in establishing art history as a discipline in the United States. From famous early portraits to significant but understudied collections such as the Edward Duff Balken collection of American folk art, the museum’s collection has remarkable and unexpected areas of strength.
The new curator of American art will have the important job of continuing to publish the collection, carrying on the work begun by Wilmerding and Laura Giles, curator of prints and drawings, in American Art in the Princeton University Art Museum, Volume. 1: Drawings and Watercolors (2004).
The nearly 50 paintings, sculptures and works on paper that comprise Wilmerding’s gift to the museum is especially significant for its strong concentration of rarely discussed later works by artists, including Robert Indiana, Alex Katz, Roy Lichtenstein and Tom Wesselmann. These join strong holdings in the museum’s collection by James Rosenquist, Edward Ruscha and George Segal.
“John Wilmerding’s scholarship in the field of American art will continue to have an impact on students and scholars for generations to come,” said Taylor. “Though he is retiring from the Princeton faculty, these extraordinary works will be here to continue and celebrate his legacy. We are grateful to Professor Wilmerding for his generosity and the inspiration he has given, and will continue to give, to generations of students in the field.”
His donation enhances Princeton’s already stellar collection of Pop Art, making it one of the strongest and most complete collections of Pop Art in the country. In 2004, Wilmerding donated a significant collection of 51 paintings and drawings dating from the mid- to late Nineteenth Century by such artists as Frederic Edwin Church, Martin Johnson Heade, Thomas Eakins, Winslow Homer, and George Caleb Bingham to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
The gifted painting “Still Life with Watermelon” by Peale was chosen for its significance in the field of American art and because it, like the Pop Art gift, complements the permanent collection of the museum. American painter Rubens Peale (1784‱864) was the son of Charles Willson Peale, who painted the iconic image of George Washington at the Battle of Princeton †the first portrait commissioned by the trustees of the college. The jewel-like still life painting reflects the abundance and exuberance of mid-Nineteenth Century American painting.
“I am most thankful to my friends and colleagues for having chosen this remarkable work in honor of my tenure here at Princeton,” said Wilmerding. “The painting will join the three other mid-Nineteenth Century still life paintings in the collection, as well as other works by members of the Peale family.”
The works from Wilmerding’s donated collection of Pop Art are currently on view through August 12 at the Princeton University Art Museum, which is located in the center of the Princeton University campus. For information, 609-258-3788 or www.princetonartmuseum.org .
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