Thanks to a recent gift from Dr. Ruth Steinberg ’72, Barnard Library joins the ranks of the British Library, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Frick, and the Morgan Library and Museum as one of a number of leading institutions holding a copy of the three-volume set, Pictures in the Collection of P.A.B. Widener at Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania. The oversize set was privately published in 1913-1916 in a limited edition of 200 by the leading printer of the day, De Vinne Press of New York City. The books include exquisite reproductions of European paintings and text by prominent art historians such as Bernard Berenson. They are organized by School: v.1 Early German, Dutch and Flemish schools; v.2 British & modern French schools; v.3 Early Italian & Spanish schools.
Peter Arrell Brown Widener (1834-1915), the son of a bricklayer in Philadelphia, made his fortune in the trolley-car and financial industries. The Widener art collection was among the finest built by a new class of American millionaires, the likes of J.P. Morgan, Henry Clay Frick, Andrew Mellon, Samuel Kress, and Henry E. Huntington. All of them relied on the international art dealers, Duveen Brothers, for expert guidance in their insatiable pursuits. A number of the collections became the nuclei of American museums, including the Widener Collection, which was donated by P.A.B. Widener’s grandson, Joseph, as one of the founding collections of the National Gallery of Art (Smithsonian Institution) in 1942.
The books were initially intended for private distribution. Dr. Steinberg suggested that the exclusive sets may have been given as gifts to other “Duveen era collectors”. "My father purchased these gorgeous volumes many years ago. He did not have the luxury of any training in the arts, but he just adored beautiful books and works of art. These books were treasured by my family and I hope they will be appreciated by future generations of students and faculty at Barnard."
The books broaden our view of the habits and aspirations of the Gilded Age, American and European social history, visual culture, patronage studies, as well as the fine printing movements of the era. In addition to other similar limited editions, the De Vinne Press produced the Century Magazine and Grolier Club books, and is credited with advancing the cause of highly skilled workmanship in the field in this country and beyond. Barnard Librarian for Art and Architecture, Heidi Winston, was thrilled with the gift and looks forward to helping students and faculty incorporate the set into their teaching and scholarship.
-Heidi Winston, Research and Instructional Services Librarian
Ann Schoenfeld, Research and Instruction Intern