American Art

Dorothy Dehner

Paintings | Sculpture | Works on Paper | Decorative Arts

The Zimmerli's American art collection, numbering more than 16,500 objects, includes paintings, sculpture, works on paper (prints, drawings, and photographs), and decorative arts. The earliest paintings in the Zimmerli’s collection date to the late eighteenth century, when the United States and Rutgers University—then called Queen’s College—were in their infancy. Reflecting America’s rich artistic and cultural heritage, the museum showcases examples of portraiture, landscape, still life, narrative art, and abstraction. Modern and contemporary styles represented in the collection include precisionism, surrealism, abstract expressionism, geometric abstraction, pop and op art, Fluxus, photo realism, and minimalism, as well as works that explore social and political issues. Work by women artists is a distinguishing aspect of the Zimmerli’s American holdings and signals Rutgers’ pioneering role in women’s studies.

Paintings

Notable among the museum’s early portraits are a pastel by James Sharples of George Washington (ca. 1797) and a painting by Ezra Ames portraying Simeon de Witt (1804), mapmaker and surveyor to General Washington during the Revolutionary War and a 1776 Rutgers graduate. Several other early portraits represent individuals associated with Rutgers and New Jersey, including distinctive portraits of women by Mary Jane Peale, Charles C. Ingham, Eastman Johnson, and John Vanderlyn, Jr. Important nineteenth-century landscape artists are represented in the collection. Among the highlights are works by Albert Bierstadt and John Frederick Kensett. Highlights of the early twentieth century include paintings by Henry Ossawa Tanner, landscapes by Milton Avery and Arthur Dove, still lifes by Dorothy Dehner and Marsden Hartley, and urban scenes by George Ault, Marjorie Ryerson, and Charles Sheeler. The collection also includes a strong representation of work by artists associated with American surrealism and mid-twentieth-century abstraction. 

Sculpture

The sculpture collection includes both figurative and abstract works ranging from large scale figural groupings to small scale examples. Thomas Ball’s neoclassical marble bust of Margaret Van Nest (1870), granddaughter of former Rutgers trustee Abraham Van Nest, for whom the university’s Van Nest Hall is named, is among the important nineteenth-century examples. The work of George Segal, a twentieth-century master and an alumnus of Rutgers, is a strength of the museum’s collection. Significant sculptures by Segal include plaster reliefs, painted figures in environments, and multifigural installations. Significant abstract sculptures in the collection include works by Louise Nevelson, Alan Saret, Ruth Vollmer, and a monumental site-specific installation by Herbert Ferber.  

Works on Paper

Of the 16,500 American works in the collection, 14,600 are works on paper, including 8,000 prints and 5,800 drawings, with the remainder being photographs and artist’s books. Nineteenth-century print holdings feature wood engravings by Winslow Homer, drypoints by Mary Cassatt, and etchings and lithographs by James A. McNeill Whistler. The majority of American prints date to the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Exceptional color woodcuts include those by Arthur Wesley Dow, Helen Hyde, and Blanche Lazzell. Prints created from the 1920s through the 1940s, including many examples of social realism, are a particular strength. Artists represented in depth include Jolán Gross-Bettelheim, George “Pop” Hart, Childe Hassam, Martin Lewis, and Raphael Soyer. The collection has many innovative prints made after 1960, including those by Michael Mazur, Robert Motherwell, Robert Rauschenberg, Ed Ruscha, Joan Snyder, Andy Warhol, and June Wayne.

To document late twentieth-century American printmaking and the vital collaboration between artists and master printers, the Zimmerli established the Rutgers Archives of Printmaking Studios (RAPS) in 1983. For nearly 30 years, the museum has acquired examples of the creative and technical aspects of the printmaking process. Print studios represented in depth are the Brodsky Center for Innovative Editions at Rutgers and Derrière L’Étoile Studios in New York. Also represented are over 15 other presses from New York City, as well as from around the United States. Zimmerli’s RAPS holdings include prints by Richard Bosman, April Gornik, Donald Judd, Jeff Koons, Barbara Kruger, Robert Longo, Faith Ringgold, Tom Wesselmann, and many others.

Among the Zimmerli’s 5,800 American drawings, there are 2,400 twentieth-century original illustrations for children’s literature, as well as preparatory materials to document the book making process. More than 100 illustrators—many with New Jersey associations—are represented, including Frank Asch, Roger Duvoisin, Maginel Wright Enright, Lois Lenski, Jean and Mou-sien Tseng, and Lynd Ward.

The museum’s growing photography collection features photographs by Berenice Abbott, Larry Clark, Larry Fink, Philippe Halsman, Ray K. Metzker, Barbara Morgan, Cindy Sherman, Aaron Siskind, Edward Steichen, and 104 Polaroid portraits by Andy Warhol. Contemporary photography-based prints by Ann Hamilton, Glenn Ligon, Catherine Opie, and Carrie Mae Weems, among others, present a compelling microcosm of America’s current art scene.

The Zimmerli also has several contemporary artist illustrated books by Judy Rifka, Donald Sultan, Richard Tuttle, and others.

Decorative Arts

The Zimmerli has a small number of American decorative art objects. Most significant among them are a group of art nouveau lamps by Louis Comfort Tiffany and a window designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for the J.J. Walser House in Chicago (ca. 1903).