Drawn to Greatness: Master Drawings from the Thaw Collection


One of the foremost art dealers of his day, Eugene Thaw was a graduate student in art history at Columbia University when he decided to enter the field. Opening the New Gallery and Bookshop at the Algonquin Hotel in 1950, Thaw worked first with contemporary artists before focusing on major masters of the early twentieth century. He soon expanded his range to include old masters, with a particular interest in nineteenth-century French artists. By 1958 he renamed the business E. V. Thaw and Co. and relocated uptown, eventually dispensing with a gallery to devote his time to finding exceptional works for private clients. Coauthor of the catalogue raisonné of the works of Jackson Pollock and former president of the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, Thaw continues to engage with and support modern and contemporary art.

Not long after his marriage to Clare Eddy in 1954, Eugene Thaw was encouraged by his wife to keep some of the drawings for which he was particularly enthusiastic, and their private collection of master drawings began to take shape. The collection ranged widely across schools and centuries, from the early Renaissance through the twentieth—and eventually twenty-first—centuries. For more than sixty years, the Thaws assembled a collection that now numbers more than four hundred sheets. After Thaw retired from art dealing in 1987, their passion for collecting extended beyond drawings to include ancient Eurasian bronzes, early medieval jewelry, Native American art, architectural models, and eighteenth- and nineteenth-century oil sketches, in addition to paintings, sculpture, and furniture.

Photograph by Hans Namuth
© 1991 Hans Namuth Estate, Courtesy Center for
Creative Photography, University of Arizona

Great drawings have emerged from a variety of sources throughout Thaw’s career: from art dealers and their galleries, through fellow collectors, at bookshops, and, perhaps most spectacularly, at auction. In pursuit of works for his collection, Thaw bid aggressively to secure certain masterpieces. A major early purchase, in 1980, was a rare
sheet by the Renaissance master Andrea Mantegna that set a record price for a drawing by the artist. A bravura study of an oak tree in Lullingstone Park set a record for a drawing by British visionary Samuel Palmer when it was purchased in 1999. In 2001, Thaw had the opportunity to acquire one of the last great landscape drawings by Rembrandt still in private hands—from the celebrated collection of the dukes of Devonshire—in so doing establishing a record price for a drawing by the artist and completing his already impressive group of sheets by the master.

The Thaws first became involved with the Morgan in the 1960s. The relationship deepened during the tenures of Morgan directors Charles Ryskamp (1969–86) and Charles E. Pierce, Jr. (1987–2007). In 1975, on the occasion of the collection’s first exhibition at the Morgan, the Thaws announced that their drawings would be a promised gift to the institution. Subsequent exhibitions, which took place approximately once a decade, featured new acquisitions as the collection continued to grow. Over time, drawings were given in both small groups and in larger installments. Most recently, the Thaws’ gift in 2017 of the remaining 273 sheets in the collection marks the fulfillment of their promise to the Morgan. This exhibition celebrates the transformative nature of this gift and commemorates a fruitful collaboration that has lasted nearly sixty years. Through a selection of more than 150 works chronicling pivotal moments in the history of draftsmanship, Drawn to Greatness aims to engage new generations of drawings enthusiasts and scholars.

This online exhibition was created in conjunction with the exhibition Drawn to Greatness: Master Drawings from the Thaw Collection, on view September 29, 2017 through January 7, 2018.

Lead Corporate Sponsor

Morgn Stanley

The exhibition and catalogue are also made possible by a major gift in honor of Eugene V. and the late Clare E. Thaw and in memory of Melvin R. Seiden, generous support from Cosima Pavoncelli, the Ricciardi Family Exhibition Fund, and the Franklin Jasper Walls Lecture Fund, and assistance from the ADAA Foundation and Mr. and Mrs. Clement C. Moore II.

Drawn to Greatness is a program of the Drawing Institute.

Honoré Daumier, French; 1808–1879, Two Lawyers Conversing, ca. 1862, Black chalk, lithographic crayon, watercolor and opaque watercolor with graphite, 1997.87.