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Matthew Vassar "Man of Affairs," 19th c., Oil on Canvas, bequeathed by Matthew Vassar, Vassar College founder 1861.

On View: Desk-concertingly Engaging

Today’s Post comes from Samantha Moyer, Art Center docent.

Matthew Vassar “Man of Affairs,” 19th c., Oil on Canvas, bequeathed by Matthew Vassar, Vassar College founder 1861.

It is really interesting to see how artifacts of history overlapped one another. One example of this, currently on view in the Lehman Loeb Art Center, is a portrait of Matthew Vassar (Vassar College’s founder in 1861), where he is sitting in front of gothic style revival secretarial abattant desk. This desk was a piece of decorative art owned by Vassar; it is on display in the galleries immediately to the right of the portrait in which it is depicted. The desk is made of mahogany wood and a marble desktop and is beautifully crafted. It has been attributed to Duncan Phyfe c. 1830, and was bequeathed to the college in 1888. One gets a sense of a meticulous natured individual from Vassar’s desk; it has very particular slots and spaces in which to store papers and personal effects. In the portrait, two of the slots are filled with a ledger kept by Vassar that contained copious financial records. This ledger is now in the college’s special collections of Matthew Vassar’s papers. It is remarkable for patrons of the museum to be able to view a historic piece of furniture, once used for the personal and business dealings of Vassar College’s founder, right next to a portrait of Vassar in which the piece is being utilized in its original setting and function. Having these two pieces of art in tandem makes both the desk and the portrait more engaging by adding to the substance of each.

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