Feature: April 2, 1997

From Pooh to Picasso

The Art Museum Celebrates the 250th With an Exhibition From Alumni Collections

With the exhibition "In Celebration: Works of Art from the Collections of Princeton Alumni and Friends of the Art Museum, Princeton University," the Museum salutes the 250th Anniversary. And what a salute it is -- 360 objects culled from 5,000 years of art. The oldest is an eight-centimeter figure of a lion, carved around 3000 B.C. in Iran, and the newest is a color photograph by British photographer Andy Goldsworthy, taken in June 1995.

From the years in between is everything imaginable. From one lender alone, Gregory Callimanopulos '57, came a black-figured Greek Amphora from the 6th century B.C., a Cycladic sculpture of a seated harpist from the 3rd century B.C., the 14th-century Descent from the Cross, by Dalmasio Scannabecchi, Picasso's Woman with a Guitar (1915), and The Woodsman, by German Expressionist Franc Marc (1911). Pictures and objects came from more than 200 lenders -- alumni, faculty, staff, students, relatives, and friends of the Museum -- ranging from a widow of the Class of 1925 to a current freshman.

T'ang Dynasty figures adorn the Asian section, along with samples of Chinese calligraphy and landscape paintings, Japanese baskets, and Japanese and Chinese export china. In the Pre-Columbian section are Mayan and Mexican figures from 1500 B.C., early Tetohuacan masks, Bolivian textiles, and a Plains Indian painting on muslin. There are also objects from Africa and Oceania.

The European and American sections glow with the work of familiar names -- Monet, Rubens, Rouault, Matisse, Childe Hassam, Winslow Homer, and Thomas Eakins, to name a few. Charles K. Steiner, the associate director of the Museum, is particularly pleased about the presence of five Picassos in this section. "We have only one Picasso, a print, in the Museum's permanent collection," he said, "and it's wonderful to see two of his watercolors, an oil, a collage, and a charcoal drawing in this exhibit."

A hitherto unknown painting, by Cornelis Cornelisz. van Haarlem (1562-1638), was only identified after its owners agreed to lend it. Someone reported to Museum Director Allen Rosenbaum that H. Kelley Rollings '48 and his wife, Sally, had a handsome Dutch painting, but they didn't know who the artist was. As soon as Rosenbaum saw a photograph of it, he thought it was a Cornelis. Experts, including an art historian in the Netherlands who was compiling the catalogue raisonné of Cornelis's work, agreed. (He wanted a photograph for his catalogue.) The painting is A Courting Couple and a Woman with a Songbook. "The Rollings just bought it because they liked it," said Rosenbaum.

While the show has great diversity, Rosenbaum feels that it is also coherent. "If you wanted to teach the history of art, you wouldn't do too badly if you used the exhibition," he said. He cites two works by Swiss Johann Heinrich Fussli (1741-1825), one in ink and the other in oils, both depicting Macbeth and the three witches, as an example that would fit nicely on two slides shown on the screen during an art-history lecture.

"We wanted the show to be fun," Rosenbaum said. "And we wanted there to be surprises." And surprises abound. Among them are Ernest Shepard's illustrations for Winnie the Pooh and some of Beatrix Potter's drawings of Peter Rabbit.

Possibly the most striking object-and one eminently appropriate to its setting-is George Stubbs's Portrait of the Royal Tiger, lent by Carl C. Icahn '57. Dating from the 1770s, it appears on the cover of the exhibition's catalogue and is surely one of the finest tigers in the history of art.

The show will be at the Art Museum until June 8.

Ann Waldron, a writer living in Princeton, New Jersey, is the author of True or False (Hastings House, 1983), a book about art forgeries.

A Sampling of Exhibited Works