Like poetry, literature, and music—visual art can reflect history, society, politics, and culture in uniquely powerful ways. Artists’ prints typically exist in multiples and have long been celebrated as being among the most democratic of art forms, with the potential to be widely shared, experienced, studied, and appreciated. Prints have traditionally been defined as images which can be transferred from an inked matrix, e.g. wood, copper, stone, or linoleum, etc., to another surface, typically paper.
This guide provides a broad overview of the range of fine print collections in the Prints & Photographs Division, with links to more detailed collection guides where appropriate. It also makes note of related materials in other divisions of the Library of Congress and resources useful to the study of fine prints.
The Library’s collection of fine prints includes an estimated 60,000 works by printmakers working from the 15th century forward, using such techniques as woodcut, engraving, etching, lithography, and screenprinting. The collection has been assembled over 125 years, acquired primarily through a combination of gifts, purchases, and copyright deposits.
Well-known creators and art movements are substantially represented, along with lesser-known artists and subjects that merit further study. International in scope, the collection is strongest in works by American and European artists, with strong representation of Japanese and Hispanic/Latinx artists. It encompasses a wide variety of aesthetic styles, techniques, perspectives, places, historical figures and events, personal to communal identities, and much more. Visual literacy students and teachers can find an abundance of visual allegories, symbols, and literary and historical references to read and unravel. Subjects range from the empirical to works of pure imagination.
Other notable collections include the Pembroke Album of chiaroscuro woodcuts; the Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop collection; George Lothrop Bradley Collection of old master prints; Gerald Cerny Collection of Central and Eastern European prints; Charles R. Dean Collection of Abstract Expressionist Prints; Ben and Beatrice Goldstein Collection of realist prints; Mission Gráfica/La Raza Graphics collection, and Crosby Stuart Noyes collection of Japanese prints. Examples of collections acquired by transfer include Harlem Renaissance artworks from the Harmon Foundation, Inc. Records in the Library’s Manuscript Division; the George Perkins Marsh Collection of 16th to 19th-century prints from the Smithsonian Institution; and the bulk of the Library’s collection’s Federal Art Project, Work Projects Administration (WPA) New Deal era artist prints (also see the WPA poster collection).