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Ivins, William M., Jr.

    Image Credit: Wikipedia

    Full Name: Ivins, William M., Jr.

    Other Names:

    • William Mills Ivins Jr.

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1881

    Date Died: 1961

    Place Died: White Plains, Westchester, NY, USA

    Home Country/ies: United States

    Subject Area(s): prints (visual works)

    Career(s): curators


    Prints historian; Curator and founder of the Prints Department at the Metropolitan Museum Art. Ivins’ father was a prominent New York utilities lawyer, William Mills Ivins, sr., (1851-1915). The younger Ivins graduated from Harvard University in the class of 1901. After a year of study at the University in Munich, he attended Columbia Law School where he received his law degree in 1907. He was admitted to the bar and practiced law for nine years. In 1916 Ivins was asked by the Metropolitan to take charge of what was then a relatively small collections of prints. He built the collection into one of the premiere American Museum holdings. A 1930 publication, Notes on Prints, which started as the text of a graphics exhibition, became one of the textbooks for the modern study of prints and when through many subsequent editions. In 1932 he hired a relatively inexperienced art historian, A. Hyatt Mayor, to be his assistant curator. Ivins helped shape Mayor but gave him comparatively free reign to learn the collection and become an authority on prints. From 1933-38 Ivins was assistant director of the Museum and then acting director. In 1938 he published a book on linear perspective in art history–one of the earlier examples, On the Rationalization of Sight. In 1940 he was appointed Director. He retired from the Museum in 1946 and was succeeded by Mayor. In 1948 his wife Florence Wyman Ivins died. Ivins was interested in the phenomenon of prints as a graphic medium to disperse knowledge. He authored a number of books on subject of geometry and perspective, both of which were employed in early printed books to disperse that knowledge. His Rationalization of Sight was eventually replaced in 1958 by The Birth of Pictorial Space by John White.

    Selected Bibliography

    Prints and Visual Communication. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1953; Notes on Prints; Being the Text of Labels Prepared for a Special Exhibition of Prints from the Museum Collection. New York, 1930; On the Rationalization of Sight; with an Examination of three Renaissance Texts on Perspective. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1938; How Prints Look. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1943; Art & Geometry. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1946; Prints and Books, Informal Papers. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1926; [facsimile] The Dance of Death, Printed at Paris in 1490: a Reproduction Made from the Copy in the Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection, Library of Congress. Washington, DC: Rare Books Division of the Library of Congress, 1945.


    Panofsky, Erwin. “The History of Art.” In, The Cultural Migration: The European Scholar in America. Introduction by W. Rex Crawford. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1953, p. 88, mentioned; Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Research Guide to the History of Western Art. Sources of Information in the Humanities, no. 2. Chicago: American Library Association, 1982, p. 97; Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Modern Perspectives in Western Art History: An Anthology of 20th-Century Writings on the Visual Arts. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971, p. 73; [obituary] William Ivins, Jr. Museum Curator.” New York Times June 16, 1961, p. 33; Mayor, A.Hyatt. “William Mills Ivins, jr. 1881-1961.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 21 (February 1963): 193-201; Mayor, A.Hyatt. [obituary.] Art Quarterly 24 no. 3 (Autumn 1961): 308.


    "Ivins, William M., Jr.." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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