Charles Ryskamp Bequest

As much as possible, I have devoted my life to the appreciation, study, and teaching of art and literature; to those pursuits I must add, and with equal conviction, collecting.

 —Charles A. Ryskamp

THE ART MUSEUM has received thirty-five exceptional European and British prints from the estate of Charles A. Ryskamp (1928–2010), a beloved professor of English literature at Princeton University, a renowned museum director (the Morgan Library 1969–87, and the Frick Collection from 1987–97), and long standing member of the Museum’s Advisory Council.

While a graduate student at Yale, Ryskamp began to avidly collect books and manuscripts related to his literary studies, but it was while pursuing a research fellowship at Cambridge University from 1953 to 1954 that his passion for collecting prints blossomed with the purchase of a small number of works by Rembrandt and Dürer. Following his appointment as an instructor of English literature at Princeton in 1955, Ryskamp continued to collect through favored dealers in London and New York. In 1960 he acquired one of his finest prints, a stellar impression of Albrecht Dürer’s 1496 woodcut, Samson Rending the Lion, and over the next few years, he broadened his tastes and acquired engravings after Pieter Breughel the Elder and other Netherlandish artists.

George Stubbs, British, 1724–1806: A Sleeping Cheetah ("A Tyger"), 1788 (2010-165).Throughout the 1960s, as prices for quality old master prints began to soar beyond the reach of his academic salary, Ryskamp began what would eventually become a collection of nearly seven hundred drawings by (in his own words) “uncommon artists and also uncommon works by celebrated draftsmen.” He also continued to buy selected prints. In 1970 he acquired Rembrandt’s Christ Disputing with the Doctors: A Sketch (1652), a delicate etching that epitomizes the naturalistic quality found in many of Ryskamp’s acquisitions. Also in 1970 he acquired a rare 1788 mezzotint by the British animal painter George Stubbs, A Sleeping Cheetah (“A Tyger”). Ryskamp wrote that his “earliest recollection of anything at all” was pouring over Stubbs’s book of engravings, Anatomy of a Horse, as a very young boy.

Charles Ryskamp’s contributions and infectious devotion to the world of arts and letters are irreplaceable. Through his generosity to the Art Museum, however, future generations of Princeton University students and scholars will benefit from his lifelong passion for collecting. A selection of works from the bequest will be on view in the Kienbusch galleries in the spring of 2011.

Calvin Brown, Associate Curator of Prints and Drawings