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Acquisition Highlights

In over 75 years of its existence the National Gallery of Art has amassed one of the world’s most significant collections of European and American masterworks of paintings, sculptures, decorative arts, prints, drawings, and photographs. From a beginning with a selection of 126 paintings and 26 sculptures given by the Gallery’s founder Andrew W. Mellon, the collection has grown to more than 145,000 works today.

The National Gallery of Art’s mission is to preserve, collect, exhibit, and foster understanding of works of art, and the permanent collection is the very core of that mission. The Gallery’s treasures come from many diverse times and places of origin and each work of art in the permanent collection is a private donation, acquired either directly or with contributed funds. Listed below are some of the most important recent additions to the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Art.

2021 Acquisition Highlights

Alighiero Boetti, Untitled

detail-boetti

Alighiero Boetti, Untitled, 1988, embroidery, 112.5 x 104 cm (44 5/16 x 40 15/16 in.), Gift of the Collectors Committee, 2020.103.1

Alighiero Boetti (1940–1994) was one of the leading artists associated with the arte povera movement in Italy and a major figure of international conceptualism from the 1960s through the 1980s. Untitled (1988), a rare example of arte povera, is the first work by the artist to enter the collection of the National Gallery of Art.

Boetti’s most iconic works are the embroideries he began to produce in Afghanistan in 1971 and subsequently in Pakistan after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. He worked with local craftspeople, mostly women, to produce three distinct types of embroideries: Arazzi (word square tapestries), Mappi (maps), and Tutti (representations of “everything”). Untitled is an example of the Arazzi style and is comprised of 25 rows. Each row consists of 25 individual blocks that feature a single letter of either Italian lettering or the Arabic script of Farsi, the spoken language of the work’s embroiderers, who were then living in exile in Peshawar. Evoking Boetti’s deep interest in Afghan culture and his interrogation of artistic identity, the work is a true collaboration between the artist and his gifted collaborators. Boetti determined the format of the embroidery as well as the layout of the letters, which contain messages in Italian and English. The embroiderers selected the color scheme and the four Farsi texts that are stitched in yellow and black, which include their names, the equine game of buzkashi (the national sport of Afghanistan, “land of the horse-riders”), and Afghan Independence Day.

Leonardo Drew, Number 76S

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Leonardo Drew, Number 76S, 2019, cotton, 152.4 x 152.4 x 13.3 cm (60 x 60 x 5 1/4 in.), Purchased as the Gift of Howard and Roberta Ahmanson, Meredith and Brother Rutter, and Joan and David Maxwell, 2020.105.1, Courtesy Anthony Meier Fine Arts, Photo by Phillip Maisel, San Francisco

The National Gallery of Art has acquired Number 76S (2019) by contemporary artist Leonardo Drew (b. 1961). Drew is best known for large wall reliefs composed of blackened pieces of wood and often incorporating larger natural wood forms (twisting roots and branches), all packed into tight but sprawling grids that both cover and come off the wall. Number 76S is a work made entirely of cotton, a material that he used early in his career and to which he has recently returned. It joins 14 prints by the artist that were given to the National Gallery of Art by Kathan Brown in 2019.

Drew addresses themes of time, labor, life, decay, order, and chaos throughout his sculptural works. He has explained his attraction to the grid as a matter of practicality as well a testament to the influence of Piet Mondrian, one of his heroes. He is known for bringing the influence of his travels (to Senegal, Brazil, Peru, and Japan) into his work in subtle ways and for his practice of taking apart and reusing previous works to give them new life. In the early 1990s, Drew began to use rust, cotton, and wood in his sculptures. Cotton refers to historical African American experiences of labor as well as his artistic improvisation, both of which have been a central theme in his work since 1994.

Thomas Schütte, Man Without Face

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Thomas Schütte, Man Without Face, 2018, cast patinated bronze on artist’s steel base, overall (sculpture and pedestal): 223 × 80 cm (87 13/16 × 31 1/2 in.), overall (sculpture): 123 × 67.5 cm (48 7/16 × 26 9/16 in.), pedestal: 100 × 80 cm (39 3/8 × 31 1/2 in.), gross weight: 113.399 kg (250 lb.), Gift of the Collectors Committee, 2020.104.1

Working across media to explore themes of cultural history and the human struggle for progress, Thomas Schütte (b. 1954) is best known for his sculptural output and his focus sculpture and the role of the monument. A leading artist of his generation, Schütte demonstrates his concerns in a variety of scales, often within a given series and a combination of architectural and figurative elements. Man Without Face (2018) is the first work by Schütte to enter the Gallery’s collection.

Using new approaches to traditional sculpture, Schütte’s examines the human form by presenting the figure in a series of anti-heroic postures. In 1982/1983 Schütte made his first figural work, Man in Mud, which developed from the simple solution to a problem: to keep a figure upright, the artist inserted the figure’s legs in a box that came up to its knees. The work came to represent the existential crisis of modernity’s constant need for progress.

The artist has made more than 20 variants of this work in different sizes and configurations, each subsequent work unmaking the previous work’s meaning and interpretation. Schütte’s most recent series of bronzes explores new dimensions of this earlier work to look at the artist’s own progress. The National Gallery’s cast of Man Without Face, is the second largest of these works and features a laborer standing up to his shins in muck. In place of his face is a sheer vertical surface, as if his identity had been sliced off, and in his right hand he holds his own mask-like visage, with eyes open and gazing back, away from the figure. In Man Without Face, Schütte imagines a way forward by looking back.

Howardena Pindell, Free, White and 21

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Howardena Pindell, Free, White and 21, 1980, single-channel video with sound, color, 12:15 minutes, Gift of Garth Greenan, 2020.20.1

The Gallery has acquired Free, White and 21 (1980) by Howardena Pindell (b. 1943), the first video by the artist to enter the collection. Given by Garth Greenan, it joins one early work on paper, three prints, and a promised gift of one of her highly textured collaged canvases comprised of hole-punched paper dots.

Pindell made her influential video Free, White and 21 following a car accident in 1979 that left her with partial memory loss. In the video, Pindell faces the camera and recounts her personal experiences of racism as an African American woman in America. Throughout the video, she adds to or takes away materials from her head and face, concealing and revealing the social construct of race based on skin color. These segments alternate with footage of Pindell—dressed as white woman with a blond wig, skin-lightening makeup, and sunglasses—responding to her own testimonials with victim-blaming statements. The video concludes with Pindell’s white character stating unapologetically, “You must really be paranoid. I’ve never had an experience like that. But, then, I’m free, white, and 21.”

Yvonne Thomas, Portrait

yvonne-thomas-portrait

Yvonne Thomas, Portrait, 1956, oil on linen, Gift of Estate of Yvonne Thomas, 2020.22.1

Yvonne Thomas (1913–2009) is among several important artists from the abstract expressionist era, many of them women, who have been rediscovered in recent years. Portrait (1956), a pivotal work in Thomas’s career, is the first of her paintings to enter the Gallery’s collection and joins an untitled screenprint from 1967.

In 1938 Thomas studied fine art at the Art Students League of New York as well as with Amédée Ozenfant in his atelier. She began to associate with the abstract expressionists, joining discussions at The Club (where she was one of the few members who were women) and at the short-lived school called The Subjects of the Artist. She also studied in Provincetown with Hans Hofmann and exhibited at the renowned Ninth Street Exhibition in 1951. Throughout her work, she combined the gestural language of the New York School painters with sensitive brushstrokes and a lyrical sense of color. In Portrait, the ghostly figurative suggestions and tinted grays evoke an image coming into focus. The painting resonates with works by Judith Godwin, Jack Tworkov, and Frank Lobdell in the Gallery’s collection.

Aurelio Lomi, The Stoning of Saint Stephen

Aurelio Lomi, The Stoning of Saint Stephen, c. 1602c. 1602

Aurelio Lomi, The Stoning of Saint Stephen, c. 1602, pen and ink with oil over chalk on four sheets of paper, New Century Fund and The Ahmanson Foundation, 2020.101.1

The National Gallery of Art has acquired The Stoning of Saint Stephen (c. 1602) by Aurelio Lomi (1556–1622), the leading painter in Pisa during the last quarter of the 16th century. It joins two other works by Lomi in the Gallery’s collection: a figure study in chalk, Studies of a Youth Pulling Ropes (recto); Faint Study of a Youth Pulling a Rope (verso) (1610s), and a small monochrome bozzetto of the Visitation, a preparatory work for a Florence altarpiece from around 1590.

The Stoning of Saint Stephen, a large study in oil on four joined sheets of paper, depicts the martyrdom of one of Genoa’s patron saints. The composition refers to a touchstone for the entire school: Giulio Romano’s altarpiece from c. 1521 in the church of Santo Stefano. The study is closely related to Lomi’s altarpiece for the church of Santa Maria della Pace (now in Genoa’s Musei Civici). Besides composition and subject, the two works share certain distinctive details, such as the luminous celestial sphere. However, the study is more expansive and densely populated than the altarpiece, suggesting it may have been an autonomous work.

Created while Lomi was living in Genoa (1597–c. 1604), this work is an exquisite example of the artist’s meticulously constructed compositions and figures, as well as his ability to create works suffused with light. It epitomizes the transition from the stylization of late mannerism to the more naturalistic light, movement, and texture of baroque style.

Jean Dughet, after Nicolas Poussin, Baptism

Jean Dughet, Nicolas Poussin, Baptism, c. 1650c. 1650

Jean Dughet, Nicolas Poussin, Baptism, c. 1650, etching with engraving on two sheets of laid paper, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund, 2020.102.1

The National Gallery of Art has acquired Jean Dughet’s (1619–1679) The Seven Sacraments (c. 1650), a rare complete set of etchings after Nicolas Poussin’s (1594–1665) paintings of the seven sacraments. There are only three other known complete sets of these prints in the collections of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the British Museum, and the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts.

Poussin painted a first set of the Seven Sacraments in 1638–1642 and a second set in 1644–1648. He made the first set for Cassiano dal Pozzo, secretary to Cardinal Francesco Barberini and one of Poussin’s most important patrons. Cassiano took an active interest in the early history of Christianity and most likely suggested the almost unprecedented subject to Poussin. Dughet, Poussin’s secretary and brother-in-law, made these large-scale etchings after the first set of paintings, which were hung in Cassiano’s home. Baptism is the first plate in the series and features an elaborate dedication to Cassiano at upper left; the other prints are sequenced according to numbers etched at lower center. Dughet recorded the exact compositions in all of Poussin’s paintings except for Ordination, in which he incorporated the landscape background from Poussin’s second painting of this sacrament.

These are the first works by Dughet to enter the collection. They expand the Gallery’s holdings of 17th-century French art, which include Poussin’s painting The Baptism of Christ (1641/1642), from Cassiano’s first set of the Seven Sacraments.

Charles Aubry, Untitled (A Study of Leaves)

Charles Aubry, Untitled (A Study of Leaves), 18641864

Charles Aubry, Untitled (A Study of Leaves), 1864, albumen print, Purchased as the Gift of Diana and Mallory Walker, Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund, and W. Bruce and Delaney H. Lundberg, 2020.97.1

Charles Aubry (1811–1877) is highly regarded for his impeccable photographic still lifes. Untitled (A Study of Leaves) (1864) is the first work by the artist to be acquired by the National Gallery of Art. It complements the various still life paintings, prints, drawings, and photographs already in the collection, from the celebrated Dutch paintings of the 17th century to the works of modern artists such as Paul Cézanne, Edward Weston, and Irving Penn.

Working in a variety of sizes, Aubry made about 200 photographs of flowers and fruit. His larger prints, such as Untitled (A Study of Leaves), have a dazzling luminosity. Using a technique of his own invention, Aubry dipped leaves and flowers into plaster and placed them in elaborate arrangements, piling different varieties on top of one another. The plaster coating enhanced the texture and three-dimensionality of the foliage and allowed him to capture detail in green objects such as leaves (his collodion negatives were overly sensitive to the color green). Aubry often arranged his still lifes on a table, lit them from above, and photographed them from a downward angle to fully illuminate each element and to minimize shadows. He also was known to hang objects on a fabric-covered wall and light them straight on for the same reasons.

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