It is an interesting question now, how the expected completion of the Fogg Art Museum will affect the disposition of such works of art as Harvard possesses. Of these, practically the only ones of great value are the two collections of engravings known from the names of their donors as the Gray and Randall collections, which are at present on exhibition in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
The Gray collection was bequeathed to Harvard in 1856 by the will of Francis Calley Gray, of the class of 1809. Mr. Gray had gathered the engravings in the course of his extended travels abroad, and had taken great pains to have them all of the highest quality. The result was a most valuable collection, numbering in the rough seven or eight thousand, and so selected as admirably to illustrate the history of engraving and printing from the time of the old masters. The Randall collection, while almost four times as large, was selected with less discriminating care, and is of far less artistic value. Both collections, from the large number of portraits which they contain, might further be made really valuable in connection with historical study.
In the year 1875, Harvard found that her engravings were occupying much needed space in the library, and even so could not be exhibited to the best advantage. They were accordingly transferred to the museum in Boston on a grant of seven years, and as no better accommodations in Cambridge were forthcoming, this grant was twice renewed. The expiration of the last term is due in 1896, and the question which is now exciting attention is, whether at that time the engravings are to be restored to Harvard to find their place in the Fogg Art Museum, or are to be again re-granted to the museum in Boston.
At present the Museum of Fine Arts devotes to the storing and exhibition of the two collections, six entire rooms. Should Harvard propose to accommodate them as satisfactorily, there would be found to be little or no room left in the Fogg Museum for other works of art. That, however, is not particularly to the point. The trustees of the Boston art museum would naturally be glad to retain the engravings in their own keeping, and one gentleman prominently connected with the museum suggested yesterday that such an arrangement would not be incompatible with Harvard's using the collection as much as she desired. Such of the engravings as might be needed for the purposes of any coursee, could be easily transferred to the Fogg museum, and in the meantime the rest of the collections would remain where they could be handled and exhibited to the best advantage.
Just what will be the outcome of all the consideration of the question, it is yet too early to say. That it will not be the transfer of the collections to Harvard has, however, been feared by the writer of one article, which appeared in the last issue of the Cambridge Tribune. The article purports to be by a Harvard professor. After complaining at length, and with considerable justice, that the Fogg Museum is far from being what its donor intended it to be, he says in reference to the Gray and Randall collections, that "the trustees of the art museum in Boston evidently have no idea of surrendering them; neither is there any inclination on the part of the Harvard authorities to demand them, nor has any provision been made in the Fogg Art Museum for their use."
The last part of this statement may safely be admitted. As to the rest, it would seem to be rather an extreme view of the situation. The engravings must by the terms of the grant remain in Boston until next year: at that time, if Harvard asks for the return of what she has loaned, the "idea of the trustees" will be matter of entire indifference. The writer in the Tribune seems to fear that Harvard will make no such request because some of the trustees of the museum in Boston are also among the "Harvard authorities." Such a fear, however, is one which it is almost impossible to share.