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Growing art collection valuable resource for students, art lovers

November 22nd, 2006

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Alumnus Steven L. Block donated “Christ before Pilate,” a rare Rembrandt engraving, to the Hite Fine Arts Institute collection.

Students in the fine arts program at the University of Louisville can gain inspiration, learn techniques and develop scholarly insight from a collection that includes works by such famous artists as Rembrandt and Picasso. Art lovers can visit Belknap Campus and the downtown Cressman Center and see the works on display.

The Alan R. Hite Fine Arts Institute’s collection of artwork includes 3,000 pieces, mostly prints, and spans the last 500 years. It all started with just 80 aquatints by Spanish painter Francisco Goya, a 1937 gift from the Carnegie Corporation that predated the institute by nine years.

Collectively know as “Los Caprichos,” the famous prints criticize Spanish society of the late 1700s. They are said to have been so controversial, that only direct intervention from the Spanish king kept Goya from being called before the Spanish Inquisition.

“To have a complete set is pretty impressive,” said John Begley, gallery director at the Hite art institute. “They are the nucleus of our collection.”

The Carnegie donation was the first of many gifts over the years. Artist and philanthropist Morris D. Belknap gave a Picasso in 1946 and a Rembrandt in 1947, but his lasting legacy was a 1952 bequest to be used to establish an art gallery and collection. Purchases with that bequest began in 1954 and continue to the present, said Dario Covi, professor emeritus.

More recently, UofL alumnus and print collector Steven Block donated the rare 1636 Rembrandt engraving “Christ before Pilate” and a group of etchings that include Picasso, Grant Wood and Currier and Ives.

Collection highlights also includes woodcuts of Albrecht Dürer, among the first examples of artistic printmaking; and a budding collection of important local artists of the past 75–100 years.

Both the woodcuts and work of local artist Alma Lesch, a founder of the American crafts movement who helped bring crafts in the mainstream art world, were featured in recent exhibits at the main galleries of the Hite institute.

Drawing from Lesch’s papers and from oral history of her students, Hite faculty and students put together the exhibit and an accompanying small catalog.

“Studying a group of original works by an artist (such as Lesch or Goya) allows students to understand the development of an artist’s style, interests and ideas; putting this knowledge into an exhibition and catalogue allows these insights to be shared, disseminated and preserved,” Begley said. “Bit by bit, it builds art history.”

Begley also draws from the Art Library’s collection for exhibitions. Last year he exhibited early imprints dating to 1600s, including biographies of Rembrandt and Caravaggio published in Italy within a decade of their deaths, and texts about cities, architecture and monuments now lost.

Original art, early art books and artists’ papers are important to the educational process, Begley said, because they allow students to get more involved in research and writing.

Related Links
Alan R. Hite Art Institute
Current Hite Exhibitions
Cressman Center for the Visual Arts
Bridwell Art Library

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