The MFA’s collection of prints and drawings is among the richest in the world, containing almost 200,000 works that range from the beginnings of printing in the 15th century to today. The collection has many strengths—from Dürer and Rembrandt to Goya and John Singer Sargent—but it boasts unexpected areas of depth as well, such as a major gathering of rare books and one of the world’s finest collections of postcards. Not surprisingly, the collection is rich in art from the United States, especially from the middle decades of the 19th century, with much material associated with the Civil War.
From the beginning, the MFA’s collection has had a particular focus on the art and craft of printing. Sylvester Koehler, the Museum’s first curator of prints, began his career as a printer and never lost interest in the technical side of his craft.
He initiated the MFA’s tradition of collecting material that documents the history of printmaking techniques, as well as the development of individual prints, as artists work through successive stages of an image. That focus has continued to the present, and among the MFA’s special strengths in contemporary art are near-complete holdings of the work of several artists who have been particularly engaged with printmaking, including Jim Dine, Alex Katz, and Michael Mazur.