Category Archives: Art Properties

Wisdom of the East Exhibition

Yellow Tara (Vajra Tara), Tibet, late 17th to 18th century, gilded copper-zinc alloy (brass) with traces of polychromy, semiprecious stones, and silk
H. 7 3/16 x W. 6 3/8 x D. 3 1/2 in., Art Properties, Avery Library, Columbia University, Gift of J. G. Phelps Stokes (C00.1603.25).

Now on view in Avery Library’s Wallach Study Center for Art and Architecture is an exhibition of Buddhist art from Art Properties. Entitled Wisdom of the East: Buddhist Art from the J. G. Phelps Stokes Collection, the exhibition showcases a selection of works of art from Tibet, Nepal, China, and Japan dating from the 12th to 19th centuries.

This collection of over fifty sculptures and decorative objects was donated to Columbia in 1959 by James Graham Phelps Stokes (1872-1960), an alum of the College of Physicians & Surgeons and a New York City politician. His brother Isaac Newton Phelps Stokes was an architect whose projects included St. Paul’s Chapel on the Morningside campus. J. G. Phelps Stokes seems to have acquired his art collection during his travels abroad, his brother and he having visited Asia for the first time in 1892-93. Most of the art Stokes donated to Columbia represents the rich visual cultures of Mahayana (“Greater Vehicle”) and Vajrayana (“Diamond” or “Thunderbolt”) Buddhism.

In addition to this collection of art, Stokes’s papers and correspondence are deposited in Columbia’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library. The I. N. Phelps Stokes papers and architectural drawings collection is held in Avery Library Department of Drawings & Archives. The exhibition, curated by Roberto C. Ferrari in Art Properties, is open Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and will remain on view until September 14, 2018.


Art in Life Exhibition: Art Properties & the MA in Art History Program

Robert Nanteuil, Portrait of Louis XIV, King of France (1638-1715), 1666, probably third state of seven, engraving on paper, 15 3/8 x 12 1/16 in. (39.1 x 30.6 cm), Art Properties, Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, Gift of Mrs. Frederick Paul Keppel  (C00.802.116)

Currently on view in Avery Library’s Wallach Study Center for Art & Architecture is an exhibition entitled Art in Life: Engravings by Robert Nanteuil (c. 1623-1678) from the Frederick Paul Keppel Collection at Columbia University. This exhibition is the result of a new curricular collaboration between Art Properties and the Department of Art History and Archaeology, in which candidates in the MA in Art History program conceive and implement an exhibition utilizing historic art work from the University’s permanent collection. During the 2016 spring semester, under the guidance of program director Frédérique Baumgartner and curator of Art Properties Roberto C. Ferrari, the students worked with a collection of 184 Nanteuil engravings that were a gift to Avery Library in 1947 by the widow of Frederick Paul Keppel (1875-1943), Dean of Columbia College from 1910 to 1918. The students also worked with the Conservation Lab in Butler Library to conserve one of the prints for this exhibition.

Robert Nanteuil trained as an engraver in his hometown of Reims, settled in Paris in 1646-47, and established himself as a portraitist to the court of the Sun King, Louis XIV, eventually becoming Designer and Engraver to the King. Over the course of his brilliant career, Nanteuil produced more than 230 engravings, the majority of which were portraits of contemporary French dignitaries, including the Queen of France, Anne of Austria, and her son Louis XIV. Most of the portraits that Nanteuil created were originally commissioned by wealthy students to decorate their theses. Today, no longer tied to the books and theses they once illustrated, Nanteuil’s engravings now primarily exist as art objects: the material traces of a master engraver and his practice. Sixteen of the prints in Columbia’s permanent collection have been brought together in this exhibition, both to illuminate Nanteuil’s career and shine a light on the nature of Keppel’s print collecting practice.

The exhibition is available for viewing Monday-Friday 9am-5pm until May 18, 2018, and is accompanied by an online exhibition at

Please join us for a special Evening at Avery

Art in Life: Engravings by Robert Nanteuil (c. 1623-1678) from The Frederick Paul Keppel Collection at Columbia University
Lecture & Exhibition reception

Frédérique Baumgartner

Department of Art History and Archaeology
Columbia University
April 25, 2018
6:30 – 8:30 PM

Miriam & Ira D. Wallach Center for the Study of Art and Architecture
Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library

Sponsored by Avery Library and Avery Friends 

Dealer’s Choice: The Samuel Kootz Gallery 1945-1966

Adolph Gottlieb, The Sorceress, 1947, oil on canvas, 48 1/16 x 36 in. (122.1 x 91.2 cm), Art Properties, Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Samuel M. Kootz (C00.406).

Art Properties has loaned a painting to the exhibition Dealer’s Choice: The Samuel Kootz Gallery 1945-1966, now open at the Fralin Museum of Art, University of Virginia in Charlottesville. This exhibition focuses on gallery owner Samuel Kootz (1898-1982), who was instrumental in showcasing some of the biggest names in mid-century European and American modernism, including the Abstract Expressionists. He had galleries on East 57th St. and Madison Ave. for more than twenty years, and he authored two books on modern American art: Modern American Painters  and New Frontiers in American Painting.

The painting on loan from the Columbia University art collection is The Sorceress by Adolph Gottlieb, painted in 1947 and exhibited that same year in Kootz’s landmark exhibition Women, which also included work by William Baziotes, Robert Motherwell, Pablo Picasso, and others. Gottlieb’s painting was donated to Columbia by Kootz and his wife in 1960.

The exhibition at the Fralin runs from August 25-December 17, 2017, and then travels to the Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, State University of New York from January 21-May 20, 2018.

Avery Art Properties at Florine Stettheimer: Painting Poetry

Installation view at The Jewish Museum showing the triptych of sister portraits from 1923 by Florine Stettheimer, (left to right): Portrait of Myself, oil on canvas laid on board, 40 3/8 x 26 3/8 in. (102.7 x 67 cm); Portrait of My Sister, Carrie W. Stettheimer, oil on canvas laid on hardboard backing, 37 7/8 x 26 in. (96.2 x 66.2 cm); and Portrait of My Sister, Ettie Stettheimer, oil on canvas laid on hardboard backing, 40 3/8 x 26 1/4 in. (102.2 x 66.8 cm). Art Properties, Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University in the City of New York, Gift of the Estate of Ettie Stettheimer, 1967.

Columbia University is the major lender to the current exhibition Florine Stettheimer: Painting Poetry, which is now open at The Jewish Museum in New York City (May 5-September 24, 2017), and then travels to the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, Canada (October 21, 2017-January 28, 2018). Columbia is the largest repository for the art of American modernist Florine Stettheimer (1871-1944). Over 65 paintings, drawings, and decorative arts objects are housed in and stewarded by Art Properties , and the Rare Book and Manuscript Library holds the Florine Stettheimer Papers . Art Properties has fifteen paintings and drawings, and a decorative heart screen, on loan to The Jewish Museum.

In preparation for this exhibition Art Properties received a conservation grant from the frame company Eli Wilner & Co., in which full restoration of one of Stettheimer’s period frames and two historical replicas were made, allowing for a rare opportunity to showcase the artist’s important 1923 ‘sister triptych’ portraits as they originally appeared in silver-leaf frames hanging in her studio and their family home. The three portraits, seen above in an installation view at The Jewish Museum, show the artist’s innovative self-portrait, her older sister Carrie decorating her dollhouse (on permanent view at the Museum of the City of New York), and her younger sister Ettie (an alum of Barnard and Columbia) in a night scene resting beside a flaming Christmas tree. To learn more about this grant and the restoration project, click here

Avery Library Remembers Christopher Gray (1950-2016)

Image Credit: Office for Metropolitan History

Christopher Gray was a major figure in the rising swell of interest in New York City architectural history that began in the aftermath of the demolition of Pennsylvania Station. With a degree in Art History from Columbia in 1975, Chris founded the Office of Metropolitan History that same year to provide research services to historic architectural questions. His research provided historical accuracy to many publications, thereby raising the standards for the field. He became widely known to the public for his column Streetscapes that ran from 1987 to 2014, one of the highlights of the Sunday New York Times Real Estate section. Chris and his staff from the OMH, Suzanne Braley, Melissa Braverman, and Samantha Hightower, were frequently seen at Avery pursuing countless citations, photographs, and drawings.

Avery Library extends its sympathy to his wife, Erin D. Gray, a graduate of Columbia University’s Historic Preservation program, and his family.


New York Times Obituary

Architects Newpaper Obituary

Avery Art Properties loans portrait of Da Ponte to NYHS exhibition


Installation view at The New-York Historical Society: Unknown artist, Portrait of Lorenzo Da Ponte (1749-1838), ca. 1820, oil on canvas, frame size: 56 x 44 in. (142.2 x 111.7 cm), Art Properties, Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University in the City of New York (C00.37)

Art Properties has loaned a painting to the exhibition The First Jewish Americans: Freedom and Culture in the New World, which is now open at The New-York Historical Society. This exhibition focuses on the historical and cultural lives of Jewish immigrants, forced from their ancestral lands in Europe, South America, and the Caribbean, to newfound freedom in colonial New Amsterdam through early 19th-century New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston.

The painting on loan from the Columbia University art collection is this early 19th-century, three-quarter-length seated portrait of Lorenzo Da Ponte (1749-1838). Born in a Jewish ghetto near Venice, Da Ponte later converted to Catholicism and eventually emigrated to the United States where, at the age of 76, he became the first professor of Italian at Columbia College. Da Ponte is best known around the world as the librettist for three operas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni, and Così fan tutte. (You can read more about Da Ponte’s colorful life here.)

The painting of Da Ponte and its historical frame were in need of conservation in order to be shown at the exhibition. We are very grateful to Mr. Leonard L. Milberg for providing full financial support to have this work completed. Our thanks also to conservator Stephen Kornhauser and Eli Wilner & Co. for all their hard work restoring Da Ponte’s grandeur for this exhibition.

NYHS website


Avery Art Properties in Battle of Brooklyn Exhibition


Sir William Beechey and studio, Portrait of George III, King of Great Britain (1738-1820), early 19th century, oil on canvas, 35 1/2 x 24 5/8 in. (90 x 62.5 cm), Art Properties, Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University in the City of New York, Gift of Mrs. Mary Hill Hill, 1943 (C00.771)

Art Properties has loaned a painting to the exhibition The Battle of Brooklyn which is now open at The New-York Historical Society. This exhibition commemorates the decisive first battle that took place between the rebel forces and the British following the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Although the American forces suffered a tremendous defeat, this battle became a decisive moment in the military campaign led by Washington and his troops.

The painting loaned by Art Properties is this whole-length portrait of King George III (1738-1820), the reigning British monarch during the American Revolution. Painted by Sir William Beechey (1753-1839) and his studio, the portrait depicts the monarch wearing the Field-Marshal uniform of a red coat adorned with the Star of the Garter, white breeches, black boots, and a black bicorn hat. In his right hand he holds a cane and in his left a pair of gloves. He stands in a landscape with Windsor Castle in the distance. This portrait is one of a number produced by Beechey’s studio after the success of the original life-size version exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1800.

George III was the grandson of George II, the eponymous founder of King’s College. This portrait was donated to Columbia in 1943 by Mrs. Mary Hill Hill, who claimed to have purchased it in England. Remnants of a label on the stretcher, however, also identify the painting as the same sold at the April 2, 1931 auction by American Art Association of works owned by Ehrich Gallery in New York. The purchaser at that time was recorded as a Miss M. Brown. The description of the painting in the catalogue incorrectly describes it as depicting the king as the Prince of Wales and the building in the background as Hatfield House. George III had been king since 1760, so the painting would not depict him as the Prince of Wales at that time, and a visual comparison of images of Hatfield House clearly shows that they are different buildings and that ours is Windsor Castle. There is other evidence that the same painting was sold at a Christie’s London auction in 1926, but its provenance prior to that date is still undetermined.

Conservation Project: Technical Analysis of a Chinese Bodhisattva

Fig1_Tan_S3920_Condition MappingThe mission of Art Properties is to encourage the study and research of works of art from the University art collection. As noted in a previous blog post, in 2013 we began a partnership with the NYU Institute of Fine Arts Conservation Center as an extension of this educational mission in support of object-centered learning. Not all forms of conservation involve in-depth cleaning and restoration. In some cases the primary concern is scientific study of a work of art in order to better understand its historical origins. The following is an example of how technical analysis of a polychrome wood sculpture from the Art Properties collection has helped us further authenticate its origins to a particular time period and region in China.

Conservation Project & Report by Melissa Tan, 2014

Fig2_S3920_view4_Avery_AP_4160_008Bodhisattva Standing on a Lotus Base
960-1279, Song dynasty, China
Paulownia (foxglove) wood with polychromy
20 3/4 x 5 1/2 x 4 7/8 in. (52.4 x 14 x 12.3 cm)
Art Properties, Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library
Columbia University in the City of New York
Sackler Collections (S3920)

This conservation treatment of a Columbia University polychrome wood figure of a Bodhisattva sought to inform the history and manufacture of the object through technical analysis. A primary goal of the research was to determine the region from where the sculpture originated. In general, scholars have had to base attributions of Chinese Buddhist figures on stylistic analysis. This stems from the limited documentation that exists on the de-installation and sale of Buddhist icons during the nineteenth century. More recently, the application of technical art history to Chinese Buddhist wood sculptures has teased out an apparent correlation between wood species and region of production. Whereas willow, linden, and poplar are identified with regions from Northern Manchuria to Shaanxi, the foxglove tree, also known by its botanical name of Paulownia, grows more centrally in China from the Yangtze River westward to Sichuan. Thus, sculptures from the Liao (907-1125), Jin (1115-1234), and Yuan (1271-1368) dynasties are generally constructed from willow, whereas statues and figures attributed to the Song dynasty (960-1279) are often carved from Paulownia.

 Fig3_Tan_S3920_WoodID-croppedThe potential to secure the provenance of the Columbia University Bodhisattva warranted conducting wood identification on the sculpture. After discussing the cost-benefit of micro-sampling with Dr. Roberto C. Ferrari, Curator of Art Properties, permission was granted to obtain a micro-sample for analysis. Thin shavings were removed from a discrete location and were mounted onto glass slides to be observed under magnification. The analysis revealed that the samples possessed characteristics associated with Paulownia, a deciduous tree native to much of China, though most common in the region noted above from the Yangtze to Sichuan. Use of Paulownia was particularly prevalent during the Song dynasty. Thus, the results of the wood identification suggests that the sculpture may have been produced between the 10th-13th centuries.

 Fig4_Tan_S3920_Radiograph_SideViewThe identification of Paulownia afforded a tangential observation to be made regarding the relationship between wood species and consecratory chambers. As part of the documentation process, the Columbia University Bodhisattva was imaged with X-radiography. In essence, X-radiography uses a high energy source to resolve the internal structure of an object. Examination of the X-radiograph revealed no consecratory chambers present in the Bodhisattva. Only Buddhist sculptures carved in willow have been found to contain consecratory cavities, while statues of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas carved from Paulownia have shown to have no such chambers. This discovery thus falls in line with recent findings noted by Denise Leidy, Donna Strahan, and Lawrence Becker in their text Wisdom Embodied: Chinese Buddhist and Daoist Sculpture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2010, pp. 38-39). The ostensible specificity of consecratory material then raises an obvious question: Why do sculptures carved in willow bear consecratory chambers? One explanation may stem from Buddhist lore. The Bodhisattva of Compassion, Kuan-yin (also known as Avalokitesvara), is closely tied to the willow. Thus, the religious significance imparted to willow may explain its apparent relationship to consecratory material. This also may suggest, then, that the Columbia University Bodhisattva is not Kuan-yin but rather a different Bodhisattva whose identify remains unidentified.

Ultimately, by studying the sculpture from substrate to surface, the conservation of the Bodhisattva demonstrates how technical analysis can guide decisions on how to approach treatment. Furthermore, the emphasis on research underscores how conservation can contribute to the body of knowledge on art history.

Art Properties Description-to-Discovery Project

C00_110Searching for Art Work in the Columbia University Art Collection

For the first time, it is now possible to search for selected works from the Columbia University art collection. Art Properties, Avery Library, is pleased to announce the release of over 2,000 item records for cultural artifacts and works of art. Among the items in this release are more than 400 oil paintings, 650 photographs, 400 drawings, watercolors, and prints, and decorative arts. Also included are records for the entire public outdoor sculpture collection, recent acquisitions to the collection, and highlights from the renowned Sackler Collections of East Asian and Near Eastern art.

This release of descriptive data records in CLIO, the online catalog for Columbia University Libraries, represents approximately 18% of the entire collection stewarded by Art Properties. Additional records will be released on an ongoing basis, making CLIO the primary discovery space for art works in Columbia’s collection. To see a complete listing of the currently available item records:

Below is a sample CLIO record for the work you see above, a portrait of Columbia President Frederick A. P. Barnard, painted by Eastman Johnson in 1886.


More search tips!

When searching in CLIO for a particular artist or topic, it is possible to narrow search results to show only art works from the collection. To do this, limit Format to “Art Works (Original).” For instance, if you search for “Andy Warhol,” you can limit your format option to see item records for all original works of art by Warhol in the University collection. Other advanced search options include using subject headings such as culture, century, and genre type to expand or narrow your search.

The amount of descriptive information that appears in each item record varies, but these records will be enhanced over time as new research is conducted on the collection. Although there are no images attached to these records, Art Properties gradually is advancing in its initiative to digitize the collection and make images available to the public as well.

Our thanks to colleagues in the Columbia University Libraries’ cataloging and technology divisions for their collaboration with staff from the Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library and Art Properties on development of the Art Properties Description-to-Discovery Project.

Works from the University art collection are available for research and study, curricular integration, and educational programs, as well as for exhibition loans to museums and institutions. To make an appointment to see works from the University art collection, contact Art Properties at 212-854-2877 or


Prince & Princess of Wales in Butler Library

DSC_0283-croppedsmallerAnyone who has ever visited Butler Library’s main reading room on the 300 level likely has looked up and seen the two life-size royal portraits that have hung high on the south wall for more than fifty years.  Donated by alumnus Edmund Astley Prentis in 1949, these paintings were presented to the University as portraits by unknown artists of Columbia’s eponymous founder King George II and his wife.  However, new research has now been published about these paintings, and the names of the artists and the sitters have been properly identified for the first time.

To learn more about these eighteenth-century British portraits of Prince Frederick Louis and Princess Augusta, read the essay written by Roberto C. Ferrari, Curator of Art Properties, and published in the Spring/Summer 2016 issue of the Historians of British Art Newsletter.  You can download the PDF for free through Columbia University Academic Commons by going to