Celebrating a Transforming Legacy:

Russian Art from the Collection of Thomas P. Whitney, Class of 1937

In Memoriam of Thomas P. Whitney, Class of 1937

March 14, 2008 - January 4, 2009

The Mead Art Museum is honored to present a special installation of eleven highlights from the collection of  Thomas P. Whitney, Class of 1937, organized in memory of this extraordinary donor to Amherst College.  For an illustrated checklist of the works on view,click here.  Thomas Whitney was a writer, translator and journalist who transformed Amherst into a center for the study of Russian culture through his generous gifts, including the foundation of the Amherst Center for Russian Culture in 1991, and the donation of a major collection of Russian art to the Mead Art Museum in 2000. After graduating from Amherst in 1937 and receiving a master’s degree from Columbia University in 1940, Mr. Whitney moved to Moscow. During the 1940s and 1950s, while working first as an U.S. embassy official and later as an Associated Press correspondent, he began to form an extraordinary collection of Russian art and archival materials. Following his return to the United States, Mr. Whitney continued his lifelong engagement with Slavic culture, writing books such as Russia In My Life (1962) and translating modern Russian literary works by Alexander Solzhenitsyn and others.

The Thomas P. Whitney ’37 Collection of Russian Art at the Mead Art Museum includes more than 400 works of art dating primarily to the late nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries and representing many artistic media: oil paintings, collages, stage and costume designs, children’s book illustrations, sculptures, and artists’ books. Taken as a whole, this diverse collection provides rich insight into the history of Russian art; given the international character of the artistic movements that it encompasses—Cubism, Futurism, Constructivism and Suprematism—it also sheds fresh light on European and American art of the same periods.
Highlights of the collection include paintings by avant-garde artists Natalia Goncharova, Mikhail Larionov, Alexander Rodchenko, Liubov Popova and Alexandra Exter, and the only painting by Pavel Filonov (The Flight into Egypt, 1918) in a North American collection. Among its more than 250 works on paper are complete print series by Goncharova and Olga Rozanova, and works by Alexander Archipenko, Leon Bakst, Marc Chagall, Vladmir Tatlin, El Lissitzky, Ivan Puni, and Naum Gabo, who is also represented by a major Constructivist sculpture (Vertical Construction No. 2, The Waterfall, 1965-66.) Broadening the historical context for the modern works at the collection’s core are a group of Russian icons dating from the seventeenth through the twentieth centuries, as well as paintings by traditional artists Isaak Levitan, Valentin Serov and Konstantin Somov and by later twentieth-century artists Alexei Remizov, Oleg Kudryashov and Ernst Neizvestny.

The Mead is honored to hold the Thomas P. Whitney ’37 Collection of Russian Art for the enjoyment and understanding of current and future generations of Amherst students, faculty, staff, and alumni; for our Pioneer Valley community; and for Russophiles, scholars, and visitors from around the world. A memorial exhibition featuring master works from the Whitney Collection will open at the Mead on March 13, 2008.

Visitors can learn more about the collection by visiting the museum’s on-line catalogue, accessible from the home page of the web site (www.amherst.edu/mead), and by consulting The World Opened Wide: 20th Century Russian Women Artists from the Collection of Thomas P. Whitney ’37, edited by Jill Meredith and Darra Goldstein, with contributions by Stanley Rabinowitz and Sonya Bekkerman, published by the Mead Art Museum in 2001.       

Thomas Whitney