The Metropolitan Museum began acquiring American drawings and watercolors in 1880, just ten years after its founding. Since then it has amassed more than 1,500 works executed by American artists during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in watercolor, pastel, chalk, ink, graphite, gouache, and charcoal. Roughly a third of the collection is by John Singer Sargent and was published as a single volume in 2000. The present volume is the first of two devoted to the Metropolitan's general collection. Documenting the draftmanship of more than 150 known artists born before 1835 and that of about 60 unidentified artists of the period, it includes drawings and watercolors by such American masters as John Singleton Copley, John Trumbull, John Vanderlyn, Thomas Cole, Asher Brown Drand, John Frederick Kensett, William Trost Richards, George Inness, and James Abbot McNeill Whistler. Because the 504 works illustrate such a wide range of media, techniques, and styles, Volume 1 is a veritable history of American drawing from the eighteenth through most of the nineteenth century. Volume 2 will extend the survey into the early twentieth century with works from the Museum's collection by American masters born between 1835 and 1876.
The introduction to this volume was written by Kevin J. Avery, Associate Curator in the Department of American Paintings and Sculpture. With zest and insight he traces the history of American drawings acquisitions at the Metropolitan, detailing its excitements, disappointments, and triumphs. His essay is illustrated with works selected from the Museum's entire collection, including some notable watercolors and pastels by Winslow Homer, Thomas Eakins, and Mary Cassatt, which will be treated fully in Volume 2. The following essay, by Marjorie Shelley, Sherman Fairchild Conservator in Charge, Sherman Fairchild Center for Works on Paper and Photograph Conservation, illuminates the creation of the 504 works in the catalogue with a discussion of the tools and techniques used by draftsmen of the period. Shelley describes how artists learned to handle the various drawing media and how and where they obtained their equipment and supplies. She documents the many advances in technology that benefited the draftsman and the growing interest in outdoor sketching that popularized such novel conveniences as the folding easel, collapsible stool, and lightweight tin container for brushed and paints. Her chapter includes many delightful illustrations of artists' supplies from the dealers' catalogues and drawing books of the period.
The catalogue section of this volume features 106 of the Museum's choicest early American drawings and watercolors. These are reproduced in color and discussed in detail. A checklist follows of the complete collection, enriched by 432 additional illustrations in black and white and by brief biographies of all the artists represented in the catalogue.