May 28, 1998
University Gazette


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Exhibition at Fogg Museum Celebrates Centenary of J.W. Randall Bequest

The special exhibition The John Witt Randall Collection: Seeking the True and the Beautiful will be on display at the Fogg Art Museum from June 4 through Aug. 16.

The exhibition celebrates the centenary of the bequest of the John Witt Randall Collection, received by the Fogg in 1898. Donated by his sister, Belinda L. Randall, at the death of Randall (1813-1892, Harvard College Class of 1834), the collection contains over 15,000 prints and more than 500 drawings. Prints, drawings, and book illustrations by artists including Albrecht Dčrer, Rembrandt, Adrian Ludwig Richter, Canaletto, Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Franz Kobell, Adrian Zingg and Henry Hitchings will be on display. The John Witt Randall Collection: Seeking the True and the Beautiful is organized by Sarah Vure, 1996-97 Lynn and Philip A. Straus Intern, Print Department.

Randall's collection of works on paper were gathered with the stated intention of illustrating his own manuscript on the history and classification of engraving, and the exhibition at the Fogg will be divided into thematic sections which focus on his interpretation of that history and on his relationship with the art of his time. Randall's historical acquisitions consist of old master prints and drawings, reproductive engravings, and engraved portraits. Based on his love of nature and interest in romanticism, the collection culminates with images of New England scenery, the Grand Tour, German landscapes, and the nineteenth-century revival of medievalism. The themes that will be considered include early woodcuts, the art of engraving, impression quality, Netherlandish prints, Rembrandt etchings, reproductive engravings, print processes and artists' proofs, portraiture, exploring natural sciences, American scenery and German landscapes and the classical ideal.

Randall's appreciation for the romantic movement in art and literature and his endeavors as a naturalist and poet informed his selections as a print collector. His taste typifies the concerns of his generation, coming of age prior to the invention of photography and the establishment of America's encyclopedic museums. Yet his aesthetic preferences were also highly personal, even idiosyncratic. For instance, his advocacy of the superiority of early German engravers over the classical style of the Italian Renaissance printmakers contradicts the opinions of most of his Anglo-American contemporaries.

The appeal of nineteenth-century German art for Randall was its ability to unite natural scenery with high moral significance. Carl Wilhelm Kolbe's etching Auch Ich War Arkadien of 1801, while inspired by idyllic poetry, exemplifies the scientific accuracy and naturalism for which the artist is best known. The two figures depicted in the etching are based on antique statuary and are reading an epitaph that makes reference to classical paradise. However, the setting of supernatural vegetation, at once beautiful and grotesque, is so out of scale that it suggests the emotionally heightened terror and awe of the sublime. As all the works to be presented in the exhibition will show, it was Randall's search for a combination of the classical and the romantic, the true and the beautiful, that guided him in assembling his collection.

John Witt Randall is a native of Massachusetts and the best known benefactor of the town of Stow. The town's library is named after him and his home and grounds are now the Stow Acres Country Club.


Copyright 1998 President and Fellows of Harvard College