by Mary Niehaus
The daydreaming lady in Elizabeth Nourse's painting has been gazing at her shimmering goldfish for nearly a hundred years. Lovely Venus, in a matchbox-sized Renaissance engraving, just can't stop washing her tiny toes. And Philip Goodwin's bucking bronc is still trying to throw the spunky cowboy who mounted up early in the 1900s.
Where can you meet these enduring characters? Not in Paris' venerable Louvre, New York's neoclassical Metropolitan or Spain's ultra-contemporary Guggenheim Bilbao. They are among the 4,000-plus originals in the University of Cincinnati's Fine Arts Collection, a mix that includes internationally acclaimed paintings, drawings, photographs and sculptures, plus Pre-Columbian figures, Grecian urns, Rookwood pottery, decorative arts and furniture.
To view part of the UC collection is easy; to see it all is nearly impossible. Strolling across campus, visitors cannot help but notice the growing number of contemporary sculptures that appear as new buildings rise. Thirst might draw them to the Rookwood water fountains in Old Chem or Procter Hall. And serendipity could lead them to portraits, landscapes and three-dimensional art objects in university offices and libraries.
Works by Cincinnati artists are a strength of the university's art collection, especially those produced in the late 19th and early 20th century. A few of the important painters represented are Frank Duveneck, James Roy Hopkins, Lewis Henry Meakin, Dixie Selden, Louis Charles (L.C.) Vogt and Herman Henry Wessel.
"And everyone knows Elizabeth Nourse," says UC fine arts manager Anne Timpano. "One of the most spectacular pieces in our collection is her gorgeous pastel, ‘Study for La Mere.' The Cincinnati Art Museum owns the original oil painting ‘La Mere,' for which the study was done, but UC has 31 Nourse works.
"We may own more of her work than anyone else," Timpano adds, which seems appropriate considering that the Cincinnati native began her art studies at the McMicken School of Design, followed by more study in New York and Paris.
Unfortunately, scores of UC artworks are in storage, undergoing restoration or on loan to other institutions. Borrowing and lending fine art is a common practice, but it can cause confusion.
"We own an immense portrait of Nicholas Longworth by 19th-century black painter Robert Duncanson, which will be a focal piece of the Cincinnati Art Museum's new Cincinnati wing in May," says Timpano. "It is our most published painting.
"However, a few years ago, after I had written about the portrait in a catalog, a caller scolded me for trying to claim that painting as ours. The woman said she knew it belonged to the art museum because it had been on display there for many years. Well, yes, it had been there for many years — on loan from the university."
Though the university created a centralized oversight for its growing art collection in 1967, manager Anne Timpano believes that lack of a dedicated gallery has kept the artworks from being more widely known and appreciated. That will change when the UC Fine Arts Collection Gallery opens in 2004 or '05 at 646 Main St., downtown, in a building currently being renovated. Many of the best pieces in the university collection -- except those permanently affixed to campus walls, of course -- will be on display at that time.
"An entirely different audience soon will be able to see the collection," Timpano says. "The artworks won't be tucked away, hidden in offices, as many are now. More people will be able to appreciate them and learn from them.
"Not only will the new gallery give our collection more visibility -- and perhaps help it to grow -- it will provide the university another positive way of interacting with the community on a daily basis."
"A dedicated gallery has been a dream of mine ever since I first set foot on campus, nine years ago," she adds. "It will be good for our collection, good for the university and good for the community."