Rare Collections

The library’s image collections includes rare materials, such as photographic albums, photographs of artists, and reproductive prints. Because of their age and subject matter, these holdings represent the bulk of the department's historically significant objects.

Views of the Château de Blois, France, page from a personal travel album, albumen prints, c. 1890s

Views of the Château de Blois, France,
page from a personal travel album,
albumen prints, c. 1890s

Prominent in the history of the photography of works of art is the production of albums containing reproductive prints or photographs of a particular subject. In the late 1970s the department began to actively collect such objects, significantly strengthening the nineteenth-century rare holdings. These albums concern all facets of art history, with particular attention to images of Salon exhibitions, international fairs, and expositions. They range from professionally bound books intended for circulation to personal scrapbooks of trips abroad. Snapshot photography did not become widespread until the 1890s; therefore, most of the images in these scrapbooks were purchased from professionals as mementos of a trip and then arranged in an album by the traveler.
In addition to its importance for art history, the album collection is of great interest to students of the history of photography because of the wide range of processes represented. Images include photomechanical prints such as letterpress halftones, photogravures, and collotypes, as well as true photographs, including woodburytypes and platinotypes, and albumen, collodion, carbon, gelatin, and salted paper prints. (Examples of many of these processes are also found in other areas of the collection, particularly albumen, carbon, and gelatin prints.) The collection includes 660 albums to date.

Reproductive Prints

Mont-Saint-Michel, France, print design by Emile Sagot, lithography by Charles Claude Bachelier

Mont-Saint-Michel, France, print

design by Emile Sagot

lithography by Charles Claude Bachelier

Nineteenth-century reproductive and photomechanical prints of works of art are particularly significant as they mark the beginning of the desire and ability to record artistic heritage for posterity and for a mass audience. Before the advent of photography, prints such as a lithograph of the interior of Mont-Saint-Michel made it possible for a monument in France to be seen by people all over the world.

After Albrecht Dürer, Self-Portrait at Age Twenty-Six, Museo del Prado, Madrid, design by G. Turchi, engraved by Moritz Steinla

After Albrecht Dürer,

Self-Portrait at Age Twenty-Six,

Museo del Prado, Madrid, design

by G. Turchi, engraved by Moritz Steinla

Prints were also made of paintings and sculpture, such as an engraving after Albrecht Dürer's Self-Portrait at Age Twenty-Six in the Prado, Madrid. The collection is especially strong in prints after works by François Boucher, Pierre Paul Prud'hon, Raphael, Rembrandt van Rijn, Peter Paul Rubens, Titian, J. M. W. Turner, and Anthony van Dyck.

fter Rembrandt van Rijn, Eleazar Swalmius, engraved by Jonas Suyderhoff, after 1637

After Rembrandt van Rijn,

Eleazar Swalmius, engraved by

Jonas Suyderhoff, after 1637

A significant subset of this collection is a group of almost 500 portrait prints donated to the department of image collections in 2005 by Peter and Evelyn Kraus.  Included in the gift are portraits from the Netherlands, Flanders, France, Germany, England, Italy, Switzerland, and Austria, spanning 300 years from the early 17th through the late 19 century.  Although this assemblage represents the Krauses’ diverse collection interests, most of the prints are from the Low Countries.    

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Tuesday through Friday, 10:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.
(except federal holidays)

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Location
National Gallery of Art East Building
4th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC

Mailing Address
Image Collections
National Gallery of Art
2000B South Club Drive
Landover, MD 20785

Contact image collections or call (202) 842-6026

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