One of America’s foremost art dealers, Richard Gray, and his wife, art historian and author Mary Lackritz Gray, have gathered an unparalleled collection of paintings, drawings, and sculpture spanning the 15th century to the present. This exhibition features more than 120 of the couple’s most dynamic and important works on paper, including Renaissance- and Baroque-era treasures by Guercino, Tiepolo, and Rubens; 19th-century works by masters such as Delacroix, Degas, and Seurat; and stellar examples by acclaimed 20th-century artists Picasso, Matisse, and Miró.
Lifelong Chicagoans deeply involved in the cultural life of city, the Grays have devoted more than half a century—both privately and professionally—to pursuits associated with the visual arts. Their first work on paper was a Paul Klee lithograph received as a wedding present in 1953; ten years later, Richard founded the Richard Gray Gallery, exposing the couple to a much more encyclopedic view of art as he helped major museums and private individuals form collections of real substance and quality. At the same time, the Grays acquired works for their own collection without any specific program, discovering the various pleasures of looking at and living with drawings. This highly personal collection has been shaped by Richard’s informed eye as a dealer—his intuitive sense, willingness to take risks and respond to opportunities—and Mary’s historical and contextual approach enriched by her graduate degree in art history. As the reach of their collecting interests in more recent years extended back in time from the modern and contemporary masters they knew so well, the art of drawing has offered a quality of instantaneity, a means to maintain contact with artistic genius across the centuries. The varied, individually important works collectively combine to create a rich and resonant survey of some of the most accomplished draftsmen of the ages.
The public presentation of this private treasure demonstrates that Chicago remains the home of ambitious collections of refined taste. The Art Institute was built by great early collectors—Ryerson, Bartlett, Palmer, Buckingham, Worcester, Coburn, and Kimball—and continues to be grateful for the generosity of contemporary collectors and their commitment to the cultural life of our city and its citizens. With this exhibition, the Grays have graciously stated, “We are pleased to acknowledge that we are presently promising to donate significant works of art from our collection and intend to give over time many more that will become part of the Department of Prints and Drawings’s world-renowned holdings. In that way, what we have assembled will become part of the shared cultural property of our city and benefit many lives.”
The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue. Exhibition curator and the Anne Vogt Fuller and Marion Titus Searle Curator of Earlier Prints and Drawings, Suzanne Folds McCullagh presents a brief introduction to the collection, followed by detailed entries by more than 50 experts on the various pieces of art. Lawrence Weschler’s interview with Richard and Mary Gray sheds light on the personalities who built the collection and the motivation behind its formation, and an essay by drawings scholar François Borne offers a penetrating perspective on the art of drawing. The publication, designed by Massimo Vignelli, is a testimony to the renowned aesthetic eye of the collectors.
Giuseppe Porta, called Giuseppe Salviati. Bearded Man with His Right Arm Raised, 1562/64. Promised gift of Richard and Mary L. Gray and the Gray Collection Trust.