The Ferris Collection of Prints
The Museum’s Graphic Arts Collection, the oldest print-collecting unit in the Smithsonian, focuses on the technical and social history of printmaking to document how prints are made and used. Smithsonian art museums collect works on paper selected for aesthetic reasons, but the National Museum of American History (formerly the Museum of History and Technology) takes a broad view of visual culture.
Our prints illustrate technical developments and cultural changes. They represent all kinds of graphic works that have influenced American society. The collection has always included examples from many periods and countries, fine-art prints as well as popular and commercial graphic art, together with the plates, blocks, and tools used to produce prints. In 1996 the Museum presented an exhibition on 150 years of Smithsonian print collecting, Building a National Collection.
One of the largest print collections ever received by the Smithsonian was donated by the Ferris family between 1927 and 1932. Stephen James Ferris (1835–1915), a Philadelphia painter and etcher, collected over 2,000 European and American prints, both reproductive and original, representing old master and contemporary printmakers. The collection incorporated a variety of artistic subjects, compositions, and styles. Ferris may well have mined it for inspiration for his own work, but he was also deeply interested in art for its own sake. He and his family and friends would have simply enjoyed studying the images.
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"The Ferris Collection of Prints - Introduction" showing 1 items.
- Stephen Ferris etched a dapper J. L. Gérôme (1824–1904) in 1899, near the end of Gérôme’s very successful career as painter and sculptor. Ferris had admired the French artist’s work for many years, at least since 1863 when he named his son after him. Although Ferris never actually met Gérôme, the two artists had corresponded. For this print Ferris used a photograph he had received from Gérôme. He then sent Gérôme trial proofs for comments and requested a signature to include in the final impressions, which appears here at lower left.
- Gérôme congratulated Ferris on the portrait as “work done with great care and great talent—the effect is very good and very firm. If I had any criticism to make, I would reserve it for the background, which is a little too even, and for the clothing, which has a little softness in the execution.” Gérôme also suggested that the highlight on the order which appears on his left breast and is not particularly noticeable in the photograph, be less bright. The order remains brightly lit, possibly Ferris’s tribute to Gérôme.
- Currently not on view
- Date made
- date made
- graphic artist
- Ferris, Stephen James
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- Data Source
- National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center