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Digital Art History
December 15, 2021

The National Gallery of Art (NGA) recently premiered a new digital image collection online: the Kress Collection of Historic Images. This collection brings together more than 18,300 digitized scans of paintings, drawings, sculptures, and decorative arts from the Samuel H. Kress Collection – objects purchased or once considered for purchase by Kress and the foundation he established in 1929. Now a part of the Gallery’s department of image collections, this platform aims to make the Kress Collection’s 3,500-some objects more accessible to researchers around the world.

The digitized images, pulled from both the Kress Foundation and NGA negatives, photographs, and lantern slides, document works of art in various states of conservation, and include some x-ray, infrared, and ultraviolet images. In some cases, handwritten notes can be found written on the backs of photographs related to the attribution and condition of the artwork. With thorough didactic information and supplemental images, this platform will provide rich contextualization for the collection and individual works of art.

This resource joins another NGA research platform about the Kress Collection, the Kress Collection Digital Archive, which launched in February 2021. Another robust online resource for scholars, the Digital Archive thoroughly and transparently documents the history and development of the Kress Collection. The Digital Archive includes more than 10,000 historical and conservation documents and images from the National Gallery Archives, the National Gallery of Art painting conservation department, and the Kress Foundation Archive, which help connect Kress objects to their greater Kress Collection history.

The histories of the Kress Collection and the NGA have been intertwined since 1941, when over 400 paintings and sculptures were gifted to the NGA by Samuel H. Kress in honor of the Gallery’s opening. Since then, the Kress Foundation has awarded over 200 grants to the NGA, in support of a wide array of projects including, in part, fellowships, exhibitions, publications, digitization, and research. With the shared goal of illuminating the history and development of the Kress Collection, as well as fostering the study of the history of art at large, the NGA has created vital resources for scholars of Kress works.