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50 Years of Pre-Columbian Art at Dumbarton Oaks

50 Years of Pre-Columbian Art at Dumbarton Oaks

Late Classic Maya Figurines, 650-800 CE, ceramic. Images courtesy of Dumbarton Oaks, Pre-Columbian Collection, and Detroit Institute of Arts.

Robert Woods Bliss collected with passion and exacting care. Between 1912 and his death in 1962, he acquired works of art from some thirty ancient American cultures, many of them previously unstudied. His predilection for fine workmanship, high quality materials, and interesting or unusual designs shaped the collection – and in no small part, the emerging field of Pre-Columbian studies.

Committed to the dissemination of knowledge about Pre-Columbian art, Bliss collaborated widely to publish and exhibit his pieces. The National Gallery of Art hosted an exhibition of Bliss objects from 1947 to 1962. In 1963, wishing to display his collection in perpetuity, Bliss donated it to Dumbarton Oaks for installation in the museum’s new Pre-Columbian wing, designed by Philip Johnson.

In 2013, Dumbarton Oaks celebrates 50 years of Pre-Columbian art in the Philip Johnson Pavilion. Select artworks on loan from international and American museums join the permanent collection: a gilded Mixtec atlatl, a painted Maya figurine, ancient glyphs, and delicate Andean mosaics all highlight recent research and create new connections and contrasts between objects and cultures. After five decades, the Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art continues to incite scholarly inquiry, reveal ancient craftsmanship, and delight the eye of the viewer.

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