March 13, 2008
Contact: Caroline Jenkins Hanna
Director of Media Relations
AMHERST, Mass.—Amherst College’s Mead Art Museum will present Celebrating a Transforming Legacy: Russian Art from the Collection of Thomas P. Whitney, Class of 1937, a special installation of 11 highlights from the collection organized in memory of its namesake, an extraordinary benefactor to Amherst College. Opening March 13, the presentation will remain on view through January 4, 2009.
The Thomas P. Whitney ’37 Collection of Russian Art includes more than 400 works of art dating primarily to the late 19th and first half of the 20th centuries and represents many artistic media: oil paintings, collages, stage and costume designs, children’s book illustrations, sculptures and artists’ books. Mead director and chief curator Elizabeth Barker explained: “Taken as a whole, Mr. Whitney’s diverse collection provides rich insight into the history of Russian art. Additionally, given the international character of the artistic movements that it encompasses (Cubism, Futurism, Constructivism and Suprematism), these Russian artworks also shed 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 17th through the 20th centuries, as well as paintings by traditional artists Isaak Levitan, Valentin Serov and Konstantin Somov and by later 20th-century artists Alexei Remizov, Oleg Kudryashov and Ernst Neizvestny.
Visitors can learn more about the collection by visiting the museum’s online 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. Information about the Amherst Center for Russian Culture, where additional works of Russian art from Whitney’s collection are displayed in close proximity to the related collection of books and manuscripts, is available on the Web site (www.amherst.edu/~acrc/) or by calling 413/542-8204.
Whitney was a writer, translator and journalist who laid the groundwork for the study of Russian culture at his alma mater 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 an M. A. from Columbia University in 1940, 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 acquire an extraordinary collection of Russian art and archival materials. Following his return to the United States, 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 Mead Art Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Thursdays until 9 p.m. For more information, please visit the museum’s Web site, www.amherst.edu/mead, or call 413/542-2335.