Rossiter, Henry P.

Full Name: 
Rossiter, Henry P.
Other Names: 
Henry Preston Rossiter
Date Born: 
1885
Date Died: 
1977
Home Country: 
USA
Gender: 
male
Overview: 

Print connoisseur and Curator of Prints and Drawings, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Rossitier graduated from the University of Toronto in 1909. Initially he was engaged as a teacher and then in business. During this time, he developed a personal interest in prints. An aptitude in rifelry made him a platoon leader in the Canadian army in World War I. While deployed in France, Rossiter visited print dealers and formed his own collection and education in the medium. After demobilization--he was a Major--he resolved to become a print curator. He started at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in 1919. Although he returned to Canada to be Curator of Prints at the National Gallery in Ottowa, the resignation of Fitzroy Carrington in 1921, Rossiter returned as acting Curator in Boston. He was appointed curator of Prints in 1923, which he held until 1967. Rossiter took advantage of the great collecting eras of the 1920s and 1930s to amass incunables and other important print specimens. Among other activities as curator, Rossiter was the chief player in a plan to acquire the entire print- and drawing collection of the Archduke Albert--now the Albertina Museum--in Vienna in 1936. Rossiter, together with Paul J. Sachs, a Board member of the Museum and himself at the Fogg Museum, entered into more-or-less secret deliberations with the archduke to sell the most exquisite works-on-paper collection in the world. The collection had recently be repatriated to the Hapsburg monarchy by the Austrian government and the duke was desperate for money to pay for a bid to accession to the emperor of Hungary and support his mistresses. As the deal seemed near completion, the Austrian government learned of the plan to lose what was clearly a national treasure and forbade the event. The "Albertina Affair" was demonstrative of the kind of power and political situation that existed for high-level curators in the United States between the wars. He hired Eleanor Sayre as his prints assistant, one of the few women to work in that capacity at the MFA. In 1951 he acquired proofs of Goya's "Disasters of War" series from the collection of William Stirling Maxwell, facillitated by the Harvard Library prints authority Philip Hofer. Rossiter retired in 1967 (he was 81) and was succeeded in the department by Sayre. After his death, he was implicated in the 1990s of having bought works of art during the years preceding World War II which had suspicious provenance. He admitted to FBI agents in 1941 that one dealer from whom he routinely purchased prints, Richard Zinser, had been imprisoned in Germany for smuggling art. Rossiter bought prints from Zinser for the Museum, including works by Dürer, despite Zinser's refusal to reveal the source of his works. The MFA ceased buying prints from Zinser after the FBI's visit.

Selected Bibliography: 
and Hipkiss, Edwin J. Eighteenth-century of American Arts: the M. and M. Karolik Collection. Cambridge, MA: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston/Harvard University Press, 1941; An Exhibition of Paintings, Drawings and Prints by J. M. W. Turner, John Constable [and] R. P. Bonington. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1946; [facsimile edition] Blake, William. [John Milton's] Paradise Lost. New York: Studio Publications, 1947; "Two Prints by the Master of the Amsterdam Cabinet." Bulletin [Museum of Fine Arts, Boston] 64 no. 338 (1966): 173-7; "Care of Prints." Print-Collector's Quarterly 30 (March 1950): 33-40.
Sources: 
"Henry Preston Rossiter: Retiring Curator of the Department of Prints and Drawings, Boston Museum." Bulletin [Museum of Fine Arts, Boston] 65 no. 341 (1967): 92-151; Butler, J. T. "Henry Preston Rossiter Honoured by Boston Museum." Connoisseur 167 (April 1968): 270; Whitehill, Walter Muir. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston: a Centennial History. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1970, pp. 387-390. 726-244; Rossiter, Henry P. "Albertina for Boston?" Apollo 96 (August 1972): 135-7; Goggin, Maureen, and Robinson, Walter V. "Murky Histories Cloud Some Local Art." The Boston Globe November 9, 1997, p. A1; [obituaries;] "Necrologie." Gazette des Beaux-Arts 89 no 1299 (April 1977): 36.