The Samuel H. Kress Collection

Umbrian School, Madonna and Child with the Infant Saint John, 16 century, Philbrook Art Center, Gift of The Samuel H. Kress Foundation. Image and original data provided by New York University - Institute of Fine Arts, Visual Resources Collection

The Samuel H. Kress Foundation and Artstor are collaborating on a project to digitize and distribute through Artstor approximately 1,700 art works from the Kress Collection. From the mid–1920s to the end of the 1950s, Samuel Henry Kress (1863–1955) and the Samuel H. Kress Foundation amassed one of the most astonishing collections of European Old Master paintings, sculpture, and decorative arts ever assembled through the efforts of a private individual. Even more remarkable was the manner in which Kress would share his collection with the American people. Starting in the early 1930s, Kress began to divide his private collection among 90 institutions in 33 states. The largest single donation went to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., while the rest of the Kress Collection was distributed to various institutions across the United States. 700 Old Master works, in groups of twenty to sixty, were given to regional museums in 18 American cities. These Kress regional collections would bring Italian paintings to many communities throughout the country, often for the first time. Another 200 paintings were divided into Kress study collections for 23 colleges and universities. Major gifts of special collections were also donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Pierpont Morgan Library, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Initiated by Kress, this extraordinary act of philanthropy was completed by the Kress Foundation between 1947 and 1961, under the guidance of his brother, Rush Kress. Since it was founded in 1929, the Kress Foundation has devoted its resources almost exclusively to programs related to European art. According to Dr. Marilyn Perry, President Emerita of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, "Sharing the artistic patrimony of Europe with the people of America was the philanthropic vision of Samuel Kress and the Kress Foundation." In reaching an agreement with Artstor, Dr. Perry expressed her enthusiasm for the use of digital technologies to make the Kress Collection more broadly available for educational and scholarly purposes: "We are deeply gratified that the Artstor initiative of the Mellon Foundation will make it possible to share these treasures even more widely."

Through the present collaboration, Artstor is attempting to reassemble a substantial portion of the Kress Collection within the Digital Library. Before its dispersal, the collection comprised European art of the principal continental schools from the 13th to the early 19th centuries. However, its greatest distinction lies in its extraordinary strength in Italian art. According to Colin Eisler, Robert Lehman Professor of Fine Arts at New York University's Institute of Fine Arts: "The world's most encyclopaedic collection of Italian painting may be that formed by Samuel H. Kress. His original plan was to include works by every artist mentioned by Vasari but the grand design grew to include Italian artists' works through the late eighteenth century. Had Kress' gathering remained intact, it would have been the wonder of viewers and scholars alike for its unique, dazzling comprehensiveness." Many of the greatest Italian artists appear in the Kress Collection, as do numerous significant works by less familiar masters. As a result, the Kress Collection in Artstor reflects this strength in Italian art, while also including works from the French, Spanish, Dutch, Flemish, and German schools. Approximately 1,700 Old Master works from Kress collections in 50 institutions are available in the Digital Library—please see below for a list of the contributing museums. The majority of the images depict paintings, with some examples of sculpture and decorative arts. The collection includes approximately 700 works from the National Gallery of Art.