The Art Department began in 1892 with the appointment of William Carey Poland, who had been professor of classics for some years, to the new chair of professor of the history and criticism of the fine arts. Prior to that time, art instruction had been very informal. In 1871 Marshall Woods offered three thousand dollars for the establishment of a “Lectureship on the Fine Arts, and on their Application to the Mechanic Arts, or Industrial Pursuits.” The Marshall Woods Lectures did not, however, begin until 1919. An item in the Brunonian, February 6, 1875, announced, “Prof. Diman will give lectures on art Saturdays without dictation. This is not included in the regular course, and the privilege of them is highly esteemed by the Seniors.” The students had requested lectures in architecture and art, and Diman suggested that the time had come to provide regular instruction in these subjects. Further exposure to art was provided the next year by the “Boat Club Lectures,” a series of four lectures, which included Professor Diman on “Saracenic Architecture in Spain,” Augustus Hoppin on “Caricature,” and Rev. C. A. L. Richards on “Art and its condition in America.” Richards in his lecture urged the establishment of a professorship of art at Brown. The third of the four lectures, which was not concerned with art, was delivered by Abraham Payne on “Public speaking and public speakers.” In 1877-78 an elective course in the history of architecture was offered to the seniors by Professor Diman.
In 1892 Professor Poland had just returned from a year in Athens as Annual Director of the American School of Classical Antiquities, and had brought back some antiquities in the form of casts for the Museum of Classical Archaeology, which was set up on the lower floor of Manning Hall. President Andrews, announcing the new department in his annual report, noted, “Some of us have long cherished the wish to open a department of this sort, until now impossible, and have watched with interest Professor Poland’s growing fitness to organize and conduct it. His interests and researches have for years been directed more and more toward ancient art, which presents the principles for all the aesthetic developments of modern times.” Only two years later the president was reporting that registration in the courses in History and Criticism of Fine Arts had doubled in the last year and a large number of casts had been acquired, including some of the Elgin Marbles, together with many lantern slides. At the request of Professor Poland, Professor Benjamin F. Clarke gave a course of lectures in 1893 on “Architecture, its History and Construction.” In 1895 the study of architecture, taught by Providence architect Norman Isham, was placed in the Department of Fine Arts, and the first Ph.D. degree in the department was earned by Daniel Goodwin for a dissertation entitled The Return of the Gods from Exile, a Study of the Mutual Influence of Renaissance Art and Christianity in Italy.
In 1896 music, which was taught by Joseph N. Ashton, was also added to the department. Professor Poland was able to report the next year that during the five years of the existence of the department, 120 men had taken one or more of the six art courses, and he himself had given outside lectures of art at Miss Wheeler’s School, the Normal School, and Miss Saniewska’s School. He also represented the University on the Board of Directors of the Rhode Island School of Design, and by vote of the board, was serving as president of that institution. In 1901 President Faunce recommended that a scheme of cooperation be arranged with the Rhode Island School of Design which would allow students of the School to take such courses as English, modern languages, and mathematics at Brown and open courses in architectural and free-hand drawing at the School to Brown students. The arrangement took effect in 1901-02. Professor Poland reported in 1914 that the Museum of Fine Arts in Manning Hall had been open to the public four hours a week, and was also being used by teachers and classes in the Providence schools. On the retirement of Poland in 1915, the direction of the Museum was transferred to the Department of Greek. John Shapley was instructor in art from 1915 to 1919 and assistant professor from 1919 to 1924.
A new policy in art was ushered in by the appointment of Will S. Taylor as assistant professor of art in 1926. President Faunce announced, “Hitherto the Fine Arts at Brown have been taught by men of classical training and background, and Art has had close relation to Archaeology. To most of our students we have been able to offer the History of Art, but for Modern Art in its present developments we have referred them to other institutions. Now, Mr. Taylor ... will have his studio close beside the campus, and students for the first time will see their teacher as an artist at his task.” A house on George Street opposite St. Stephen’s Church was acquired for his use, and on the rear of its lot and an adjacent lot a one-story studio and classroom building was erected. A new three-year elective course open to 25 men and 25 women was begun, with the first and third year taught by Professor Taylor and the second year taken at the School of Design. A grant from the Carnegie Corporation in 1931-32 allowed the department to add an assistant professor, George E. Downing, to move the department offices and library into 44 Benevolent Street, and to reconstruct the building at 41 Benevolent Street for a studio in mural painting. For several years beginning in 1931 Professor Curt Ducasse’s course in aesthetics was listed as a course in both the Art Department and the Philosophy Department, as was Professor C. Alexander Robinson’s course in classical archaeology in the Art Department and the Classics Department.
In November 1932 Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design conducted a three-day Institute of Art, made possible by a special grant of the Carnegie Foundation. Frank Lloyd Wright spoke on “The Growth and Development of American Architecture.” Other speakers included Frank Jewett Mather of Princeton, Everett Victor Meeks of Yale, and Kenneth John Conant of Harvard. Honorary degrees were bestowed upon conductor Walter Damrosch, novelist Oliver LaFarge, and Henry W. Kent, secretary of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In connection with the institute to which 400 art critics, artists, museum directors and educators were invited, there were a number of special exhibits in Providence. Other events were the Lownes memorial organ recital by Fernando Germani, a chamber music recital by the Musical Art Quartet, and a performance of “Trelawney of the Wells” by Sock and Buskin and the Players of Providence. This was the first of several annual institutes of art.
In June of 1949 the University purchased a house at 191 Thayer Street, the former residence of Henry W. Cooke, for the use of the Art Department. Taylor’s studio was moved in the fall of 1949 to a site in back of Brunonia (Richardson) Hall, thereby clearing its former lot for the building of the Refectory. The new shingled building squeezed many functins into its modest cubage. Professor Taylor’s studio occupied its lighted basement, with a large teaching studio upstairs which art history shared. Art history lectures occupied the studio during the morning with images projected on hinged screens dropped from the ceiling. Before the afternoon studio session a janitor raised the screens and exchanged the rows of chairs for easels.
Meanwhile, the department had been growing. First, on the art history side, the arrival of Thomas Reed in 1950 augmented George Downing’s lectures in modern and medieval art with instruction in Renaissance and baroque art. William Loerke, a medievalist, came in 1950, allowing Professor Downing to concentrate on the field of his greatest interest. In studio art Walter Feldman replaced Professor Taylor, who retired in 1953. William Jordy, arriving in 1955, made architecture popular and inspiring to future architects and many other students. Professor Feldman’s specialities in painting and printmaking were augmented by those of Hugh Townley, who arrived in 1961 as Brown’s first sculptor. In the 1960s Profesors Reed and Loerke left, the former for the Rhode Island School of Design, the latter to head Dunbarton Oaks in Washington. Additions to the department were Stephen Scher (medievalist), Bates Lowry (Renaissance), and Fred Licht (eighteenth and nineteenth century). and Edward Koren, known for his fuzzy animal cartoons in the New Yorker, who taught drawing and printmaking. When the city of Florence was flooded in November of 1966, Bates Lowry and Fred Licht initiated the organization of the nationwide Committee to Rescue Italian Art (CRIA), which provided both funds and the advice of art experts in salvaging the city’s art treasures. Both Licht and Lowry left the department in 1968, Licht to become director of the Florida State University Study Center in Florence and Lowry to become director of the Museum of Modern Art. In 1968 Juergen Schulz, an authority in the history of architecture, came to Brown as chairman of the department. In the fall of 1966 a new graduate program in art history began with thirteen graduate students. The program was made possible by a Ford Foundation grant, and was supported by a five-year grant from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation. From 1967 to 1992 students entering the master’s program in art history have mounted an exhibition and published a series of widely acclaimed exhibition catalogues.
The List Art Building, designed by Phillip Johnson and opened in 1971, provided lecture rooms, studios, and exhibition space in the David Winton Bell Gallery. In 1988 the Art Department split into two sections – the Program in the Visual Arts headed by Professor Hugh Townley and the Program in the History of Art and Architecture headed by Juergen Schulz. Both programs later acquired department status. In other changes at this time, the Bell Gallery became independent and the slide library came under the administration of the University Library. The department offers concentrations in the history of art, the practice of arts, and an interdepartmental concentration in art-semiotics, which studies the cultural role of artistic production. Chairmen of the department up to the time of the split have been Will S. Taylor, George E. Downing, William H. Jordy, Bates Lowry, Juergen Schulz, Stephen K. Scher, Kermit S. Champa, Richard Fishman, Roger Mayer, and Rudolf M. Winkes. The chairpersons of the Department of History of Art and Archeology have been Catherine Zerner and Jeffrey Muller, and those of the Department of Visual Arts have been Wendy Edwards and Roger Mayer.