Amherst College Receives the Thomas P. Whitney ’37 Collection of Russian Art

March 28, 2001
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AMHERST, Mass.—Thomas P. Whitney has given the Trustees of Amherst College his collection of modern Russian art, which includes more than 400 objects created by artists in Russia and in exile in the late 19th century and the 20th century. Tom Gerety, president of Amherst said, “It will be a great resource for many decades to come, accessible to students and scholars from around the world, including scholars and students from Russia.”

The Collection now will be housed, exhibited and studied in the Mead Art Museum and the Amherst Center for Russian Culture, which was created in 1991 by Whitney and Stanley J. Rabinowitz, the Henry Steele Commager Professor and Professor of Russian at Amherst College, to preserve Whitney’s archive of Russian printed and manuscript materials. “This remarkable collection of artworks, now rejoined with the extraordinary collection of manuscripts and documents into an organic whole, will make Amherst College a center for scholarly inquiry into modern Russian artistic contributions to international modernism,” Gerety says.

Jill Meredith, director of the Mead Art Museum, says, “Through this remarkable collection, one can gain a greater understanding of the profound impact Russian culture has had on the West. The Thomas P. Whitney ’37 Collection, in its breadth, depth and quality, not only speaks to the significance of Russian art in the 20th century, but also attests to its profound importance in the formation of modernism as an international phenomenon. Whitney’s extraordinary generosity has reshaped the content and scope of the art collection of the Mead Art Museum.”

Stanley J. Rabinowitz, director of the Amherst Center for Russian Culture, says Whitney’s “collection has accomplished his primary goal: to establish a living testimony to Russia’s aesthetic pre-eminence in the history of world culture and to constitute a monument to those brave and remarkable artists, many of whom practiced their craft under appalling, even ominous conditions.”

The Thomas P. Whitney ’37 Collection of Russian Art is a broad collection, including academic easel paintings, avant-garde mixed-media projects, stage and costume designs for ballet, opera and experimental theater, and illustrations for children’s books. The paintings, prints, drawings, sculpture and artists’ books exemplify the major innovative artistic movements of the early 20th century, such as Cubism, Futurism, Constructivism and Suprematism. The collection also includes many Russian icons, some dating as far back as the 17th century.

The artists, most of whom are represented by multiple works, include Alexander Rodchenko, Pavel Filonov, El Lissitzky, Naum Gabo, Alexander Archipenko, Mikhail Larionov, Natalia Goncharova, Liubov Popova, Olga Rozanova, Leon Bakst and Marc Chagall. Also among the artists are such traditional painters as Isaak Levitan, Valentin Serov and Konstantin Somov, as well as later 20th-century artists Alexei Remizov, Oleg Kudryashov and Ernst Neizvestny.

The Amherst Center for Russian Culture and the Thomas P. Whitney ’37 Collection of Russian Art in the Mead Art Museum form an interdependent whole. Whitney has given them to his alma mater, a residential liberal arts college of 1,650 students, so that they could be exhibited and studied together.

Whitney, a writer, translator and journalist, graduated from Amherst College in 1937 and received a master’s degree from Columbia University in 1940.

As the first show in their ongoing collaboration, the Mead Art Museum and the Amherst Center for Russian Culture Gallery will present “The World Opened Wide: 20th-Century Russian Women Artists,” from March 3 until May 13. The Amherst Center for Russian Culture Website is at http://www.amherst.edu/~acrc. The Mead Art Museum Website is at http://www.amherst.edu/~mead.

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