Founded in 1959 and now comprising four wings with more than 24,000 square feet of exhibition space, the Colby College Museum of Art has built a significant collection of some 6,000 works, with a focus on American and contemporary art. The museum plays an active role as a teaching resource for the College’s academic departments and interdisciplinary programs while also offering the public a range of special exhibitions and events.
Major American works by John Singleton Copley, Gilbert Stuart, Winslow Homer, Albert Bierstadt, Mary Cassatt, and William Merritt Chase form part of the museum’s historical collection, while the modern movement is represented by important works by John Marin, Marsden Hartley, Georgia O’Keeffe, George Bellows, and Rockwell Kent. The museum also features an important contemporary collection, including work by Chuck Close, Agnes Martin, Sol LeWitt, Dan Flavin, Kara Walker, Elizabeth Murray, and Alex Katz, among many others. Additional holdings in American art include 18th-century portraits, the American Heritage Collection of Folk Art, primitive portraits, and weathervanes, as well as work by American Impressionist painters.
Though the majority of the museum’s works are American, excellent examples of European prints, drawings, and paintings, and special collections such as the Bernat Collection of Oriental Ceramics are integral to the museum’s holdings. Other highlights include the Joan Whitney Payson Collection of Impressionist and Post-impressionist Paintings, which is on view for one semester every two years.
A superb set of 201 prints by James McNeill Whistler and an acclaimed collection of ancient Chinese ceramics, The Colville Collection of Early Chinese Art, are both part of an unprecedented gift of more than 500 objects, including 464 works of American art, generously promised to the museum in 2007 by Peter and Paula Lunder. In addition to the Whistler prints, the Lunder Collection includes works by John Singer Sargent, Mary Cassatt, William Merritt Chase, Winslow Homer, Paul Manship, Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keeffe, Donald Judd, Jenny Holzer, and other artists.
The museum’s Lunder Wing, designed by architect Fred Fisher and completed in 1999, presents 13 galleries of works that trace the development of American art from the 18th to the early-20th centuries. Two of these galleries are dedicated to the works of American modernist John Marin, who between 1913 and his death in 1953 spent most of his summers in Maine. The John Marin Collection, the largest collection of the artist’s work in any academic museum, contains the full spectrum of art produced during Marin’s long career, including oil paintings, watercolors, drawings, and etchings.
The Paul J. Schupf Wing for the Works of Alex Katz is one of only a handful of museum wings dedicated to the work of a living artist. In rotating exhibitions drawn from the museum’s collection of more than 600 works donated by the artist himself, it showcases a diverse collection of Katz’s large-scale landscapes, portraits, cutouts, prints, and preparatory studies.
In addition to the work of Whistler, Marin, and Katz, the museum’s holdings of the art of Richard Serra and Terry Winters represent other areas of notable depth. In 2004, through a partial gift and purchase, the museum became the sole repository of the complete prints of Winters, and in 2006 Paul J. Schupf promised the museum his collection of more than 150 prints and drawings by Serra, making Colby one of the largest repositories of works on paper by this renowned artist.
In 2000 the Serra sculpture 4-5-6 was installed in the Paul J. Schupf Sculpture Court, and in 2002 the 12 x 68-foot sculpture Seven Walls, designed by renowned conceptual artist Sol LeWitt, was installed on the museum’s lawn. In 2006 the museum became one of the first institutions to receive recorded copies of more than 500 artist lectures that make up the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture’s lecture archive.