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The First Smithsonian Collection: The European Engravings of George Perkins Marsh and the Role of Prints in the U.S. National Museum
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During the 19th century, prints and related works of art bore burgeoning cultural significance as evidenced by the growth of private collections, their exhibition in national and international expositions, and increases in the bequests and loans to the Smithsonian that aimed to shape the institution amid debates concerning connoisseurship and collecting practices. Detailing these broader cultural phenomena and their association with the construction and legacy of a single collection, Wright offers a stunning look at the first public print collection in the US, the European engravings of Vermont Congressman George Perkins Marsh. Marsh’s prints and acquisition methods are put into context with the practices and output of other collectors and are placed within the cultural landscape through acknowledgement of the value ascribed to prints and their importance to visual culture during the antebellum and postbellum years. Meticulously researched with thorough notes as well as an ample bibliography of primary and secondary sources, this book acutely examines the importance of the Marsh Collection as a placeholder for art in the early history of the Smithsonian, its legacy of support of achieving national status for the institution, and the broader role of prints in preserving and presenting visual culture as part of national identity. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readership levels.
--J. Decker, Rochester Institute of Technology
About the Author
Helena E. Wright is a curator in the Division of Culture and the Arts at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Her research on printmaking, print collecting, and the cultural significance of prints in American history has been published in numerous journals and books.
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