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Acquisitions: Acquisitions Archive

Herbert Barrows Collection

Portrait of a Man

Oskar Kokoschka
The Snake Charmer
1907-08
tempera on wove paper
Gift of Herbert Barrows, 2000/2.180

In December of 2000, UMMA received a marvelous gift from longtime friend Herbert Barrows—152 prints, drawings, paintings, and pieces of sculpture. A University of Michigan professor emeritus of English, Barrows has collected works of art for the last half century, and has amassed a collection that attests both to his passion for European and American art and to his discerning eye.

From the time he was an undergraduate at Harvard, Barrows enjoyed living surrounded by visual images. In the 1953–54 academic year, he was a Fulbright scholar in Berlin, where he became acquainted with important gallerists and contemporary artists. He went on to travel in Italy and purchased the first of several canvases by Italian artist Emanuele Cavalli. His interest in German and Italian twentieth-century art proved decisive for the future of his collection as it would acquire its greatest depth it these areas. As a whole, the collection represents artists of a broad range of nationalities, most from the late nineteenth through late twentieth centuries.

Shortly after returning from Europe, Barrows began teaching at the University of Michigan and collecting more intensely in consultation with area dealers and artists, including several teachers and students in the UM School of Art and Design. He also acquired works through Chicago, Baltimore, and New York City galleries. Over the years, he traveled for pleasure in Europe, buying works of art from dealers in many cities, including Berlin, Cologne, Munich, Frankfurt, Düsseldorf, Zurich, Milan, Bologna, and Paris.

The collection’s most impressive concentration is in German Expressionism, well represented by key artists such as Max Beckmann, Lovis Corinth, Georg Grosz, Ernst Kirchner, and Hans Schmidt-Rotluff. These prints and drawings significantly enrich UMMA’s already strong German Expressionist holdings. Other jewels among his European works include a rare color woodcut by the early twentieth-century German artist Gabriele Münter; a dazzling tempera drawing of a snake charmer by the early twentieth-century Austrian expressionist, Oskar Kokoschka; and a drawing of the Flat Iron Building in New York by the early twentieth-century French cubist, Albert Gleizes.

During the last few decades, Barrows’s collecting efforts were focused on American art, which was more readily available at the time. The collection includes fine examples of figurative and abstract works by late twentieth-century and contemporary American artists like Richard Diebenkorn, Eric Fischl, Alex Katz, Robert Motherwell, Claes Oldenberg, and Larry Rivers.

“Most [pieces] I respond to in as lively a way as when I first had them,” said Barrows, who sees collecting as “life-enhancing” and hopes that his collection will inspire others to nurture a love of art.