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 collaborated with his brother-in-law Peter Moran in 1875 to make this large 22 x 57cm reproductive etching of Alexander von Wagner’s stirring painting Chariot Race in the Circus Maximus, Rome in the Presence of the Emperor Domitian. The scale of the etching required an oversized copper plate, which was difficult to find. Ferris and Moran fabricated one from the bottom of a copper boiler. According to one source, Moran, who would later specialize in farm animals, etched the horses, the archway in the background, and the roadway. Ferris, later known for his portraits, etched the figures and the rest of the architecture. At the time this etching was one of the largest made in the United States. The print was well received; the New York Times noted: “Of the style of execution we can speak only in the highest terms.”
- Alexander von Wagner (1838–1919), a Hungarian artist active in Germany, also enjoyed considerable success when he exhibited the painting Chariot Race in Europe in 1872. Wagner painted other versions; one was shown to critical acclaim at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876. The Manchester Art Gallery in England owns a version, which may be seen on its website. It was not unusual at that time for an artist to paint several replicas of a popular subject in different sizes.
- Currently not on view
- Date made
- graphic artist
- Ferris, Stephen James
- original artist
- graphic artist
- Moran, Peter
- J. C. McCurdy & Co.
- ID Number
- catalog number
- accession number
- Data Source
- National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center