Peter and Paula Lunder began collecting European painting in the late 1970s. By the mid-1980s, they had shifted their focus to American art, amassing one of the most important collections of American 19th- and 20th-century painting, sculpture, and printmaking in private hands today.
Highlights from the collection of paintings include John La Farge's hauntingly beautiful Agathon to Erosanthe, from 1861, one of only two paintings by the artist depicting flower wreaths; three majestic Hudson River landscapes by Sanford Robinson Gifford, painted in between 1864 and 1878; the American Tonalist Thomas Wilmer Dewing's ethereal The Song, of 1891; George Inness's Spirit of Autumn, from 1891, in which the central foliage of the landscape is set ablaze by the artist's fiery palette and brushwork; and Georgia O'Keeffe's Birch and Pine Trees—Pink, from 1925, an important example of the artist's exploration of the abstract potential of forms within the natural landscape.
The collection is also notably strong in American sculpture, with five bronzes each by Paul Manship (spanning 1912–1926) and Augustus Saint–Gaudens (from 1879 to 1904), four works by Elie Nadelman (c. 1910, c. 1915, c. 1917–19, and 1928), two Alexander Calders (c. 1945 and 1946), a meter box by Donald Judd (1977), a sculpture by John Chamberlain (1977), two kinetic sculptures by George Rickey (1975 and 1977), a found–metal sculpture by Deborah Butterfield (1987), and the first of Jenny Holzer's signature engraved benches (1986).
The 201 etchings and lithographs that make up the Whistler collection represent some of the rarest and most beautiful impressions by this American master. They are contextualized within the Lunder Collection alongside exquisite examples of the artist's work in other mediums, including the luminous oil painting Harmony in Grey—Chelsea in Ice, from 1864, among 22 other oils, watercolors, and pastels by Whistler. The Lunders also will give the College a collection of more than 150 books, journals, photographs, and archival materials related to Whistler. The Whistler works and supporting research material (which is housed in Colby's Special Collections department) will be available to students, researchers, and visitors to the museum.
The Lunder Collection—and gift—also includes important examples of early Chinese art complementing and expanding upon the museum's existing holdings in later Chinese ceramics. Comprising 40 exceptional works of ritual and mortuary art dating from the prehistoric period to the Jin Dynasty (1126–1234), this collection is the most important resource for the study of early Chinese art and culture in Maine.