Generous Donors: The Print Club of Cleveland

The designation of a gallery specifically for print exhibitions when the Cleveland Museum of Art’s new building opened in  1916 emphasizes the importance of prints at the museum. However, the real impetus for the growth of print collecting came in December 1919 when the museum’s board of trustees established the Department of Prints and appointed Ralph  Thrall King, a museum trustee, to act as volunteer curator. King immediately initiated the formation of the Print Club of  Cleveland, the museum’s first adjunct support group and the country’s first museum-affiliated print club.

Over the last 97 years, the club has shown unwavering dedication to its founders’ twin purposes: “to aid the museum to  acquire a print collection of high excellence” and to stimulate interest in print collecting. As the curator of prints and the  group’s link to the museum, it has been an especially enjoyable part of my job to encourage these endeavors.

The Print Club has always supported the c u r a tor by raising money to purchase excellent impressions of old master to modern prints, and although the club has had a relatively modest amount of money at its disposa l, it has donated some  of the department’s treasures.


An example of the Print Club’s generosity is the gift of Albrecht  Dürer’s woodcut of about 1497, The Four Horsemen  from The Apocalypse, the last book of the New Testament, which records St. John the Divine’s revelations of events that  would occur on earth at the second coming of Christ. An especially beautiful impression, printed when the wood block was in perfect condition, The Four Horsemen illustrates that Dürer developed an extraordinary virtuosity and raised the  woodcut to a new and still unrivaled degree of refinement and expressive power. He varied the length and width of the  lines so that they simultaneously convey pattern, volume, and luminosity using a medium characterized by relatively thick, rough lines.

Another extraordinary acquisition funded by the club is Emil Nolde’s lithograph of 1926, Autumn Landscape. Very  contemporary, almost abstract, the artist established the essentials of the landscape with broad, sweeping movements of  his brush over the lithographic stone. The horizon stretches across a broad expanse of marshland, broken only by the  silhouette of a windmill at the right and a clump of trees surrounding farm buildings in the center. The lower half is  mostly water reflecting the mill, tree and clouds, hence the alternate title Flood. Nolde, an innovative printmaker, experimented on the seven known impressions with various color combinations. In this impression one stone was inked  in black while a second stone was printed twice in blue and then in rose slightly out of alignment so that they merge as  blurred lavender although printing one thin layer of color over another was rare at the time. A recent donation was  Jacques Villon’s 1904 work, The Little Girls’ Cake Walk, executed in drypoint, aquatint, and roulette. The gift includes an  impression of the final, published version of the print as well as nine proofs. Some of these have additional work in  watercolor and graphite, illustrating how the artist experimented extensively with color and the composition’s  construction. The group reveals Villon’s creative process; how he tried and eliminated a variety of possibilities.

These as well as additional master prints have entered the collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art thanks to the  foresight, hard work, and generosity of The Print Club of Cleveland. Working with them is such a pleasure since we share  a mutual goal, to enhance the collection with many more important works.