Comprising more than 800 works, the European Print Collection makes up ten per cent of the total FUMA collection of more than 8,000 works of art. The most important figure in its development was the late Professor Robert Smith (1928-2020), who purchased the nucleus of the collection with University funds in the 1960s and 1970s. Smith was appointed inaugural Professor of Fine Arts when Flinders University was founded in 1966.
Smith made it compulsory for the founding visual
art course to have a hands-on studio component across a range of media, including printmaking, ensuring that his students understood the complexities involved in various processes. With a relatively modest sum for acquisitions from the University, Smith immediately began purchasing European prints for the ‘study collection’ to complement his courses. Like many public art collections in the Antipodes, collecting prints provided an affordable way to amass works of art by European artists.
Provenance records show prints were acquired from Paul Prouté in Paris, and Craddock and Barnard in London, as well as other dealers in the United Kingdom and Europe. In his first year at the University, more than 100 prints were purchased by Smith. This collection reads as a ‘greatest hits’— with Smith looking for quality impressions by each artist, but not necessarily collecting within an artist’s oeuvre in great depth. Acquisitions include those by European Master printmakers William Blake, Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Rembrandt van Rijn, Jacques Callot, Eugène Delacroix, William Hogarth and Albrecht Dürer. One artist in which Smith collected in some depth was the Spaniard Francisco Goya (1746-1828).
Goya’s advances in using aquatint to enhance the tonal qualities of his etchings earned him his reputation as a master of the medium. For him printmaking was a more experimental and private medium than his painting practice, where he was a court artist and was engaged to produce commissioned portraiture and religious paintings. Printmaking was also a medium in which the artist explored darker and more personal subject matter, including critiques of authority, social satire, and revealing the traumas of war. There are nine prints by Goya in the FUMA collection, four of which were acquired by Smith in the late 1960s. Smith acquired Goya etchings from his famous printed series The Caprichos (1797-8), The Disparates (c.1815-19), and The Disasters of War (1810-15).
Collections Curator, Flinders University Museum of Art
Adelaide, Australia, 2022
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