Minneapois Institute of Arts
New Pictures at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Inside Stories on the Permanent Collection

Posted Jun 30, 2011

Museum Acquires First Photographs in 1946

We usually say that the MIA’s first photographic acquisition was a complete set of Alfred Stieglitz’s magazine Camera Work, in 1964. But, in fact, the museum acquired two photographs almost twenty years earlier.

In 1946, Mrs. George Douglas gave the museum about 250 pieces by printmaker Joseph Pennell (1860-1926), plus a small group of works by other artists and two photographs of Pennell. Tellingly, the inventory prioritized items by medium; prints first, drawings next, then one watercolor, and, lastly, the photographs. The latter were apparently considered mere reference material, as the names of the photographers were not originally recorded, even though they appeared on the mounts. Nonetheless, these photographs were formally accessioned by the museum, inadvertently making them the first to enter its permanent collection. While the museum did not establish a curatorial department of photographs until the mid-1970s, it had actually begun “collecting” them thirty years earlier.

The portraits are by Herman Schervee and Richard T. Dooner, both professionally photographers working around the turn of the twentieth century. Schervee, of Worcester, Massachusetts, produced a classic, contemplative headshot of the artist. Dooner, of Philadelphia, showed more of his subject, including expressive hands and Pennell facing the camera. Elizabeth Robins Pennell, the artist’s wife, wrote on the mount of the Dooner portrait, “A good portrait and a characteristic pose.”

Christian A. Peterson, associate curator of photographs

Left: Richard T. Dooner, American, 1878 – 1954
Joseph Penell, c. 1925
Gelatin Silver Print
Gift of Mrs. George P. Douglas 46.14.290
Right: Herman Schervee, American (b. Norway), 1867 – 1923
Joseph Penell, c. 1920′s
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Mrs. George P. Douglas 46.14.291