This selection of Old Master paintings is a portion of the Samuel H. Kress Collection, an art collection that transcends the walls of any single museum and the borders of any state. Beginning in the 1920s, Samuel Kress (1863-1955) amassed over 3,000 objects—paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts—that reflect the artistic heritage of Europe. Mr. Kress was a patron of the arts and a philanthropist in the tradition of America’s Gilded Age; he was also the classic grassroots American success story, the founder of the rapidly growing chain S. H. Kress 5- and 10-Cent Stores which became fixtures of main streets across the United States. The depth, extent, and richness of the Kress collection, and Samuel Kress’s sustained, thirty-year engagement as a collector, are remarkable. Even more remarkable is his decision to share his collection with the American people. The Kress Collection, under the auspices of the Kress Foundation, became a truly national collection, when in the 1950s the Foundation began to disburse it throughout the United States. In addition to a significant gift to the National Gallery, Kress decreed that the collection be distributed among eighteen regional centers, from El Paso to Honolulu, Allentown to Coral Gables, Denver to Seattle; and to twenty-three institutions of higher learning, including Pomona College. In 1953, Life magazine called it “The Great Kress Giveaway—a fortune in art amassed from the nation’s nickels and dimes and bestowed on museums and colleges across the country to enrich the life of the people.” The Kress Collection is now owned by institutions in thirty states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
At Pomona College, the Kress Collection continues to play an active role in the teaching mission of this museum. Since 1961, scores of students, scholars, and visitors have enjoyed access to the collection not only through regular exhibitions but also through the intimate access of the collection provided by the Collection Study Center, honoring the generous spirit of Samuel Kress’s vision. The Kress Collection is a record of continuing scholarly and aesthetic involvement in the multiplicity of ways in which art can be seen and studied, and what these objects might mean to us now in the twenty-first century.