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MFA receives transformational gift of modern prints

The collection of the late Harvard economist Richard E. Caves includes works by artists ranging from Picasso to Oldenburg

Kiki Smith's "Banshee Pearls," 1991.Bequest of Richard E. Caves/ Reproduced with permission/ Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The Museum of Fine Arts has received a vast trove of more than 2,000 modern and contemporary prints, including works by Pablo Picasso, Willem de Kooning, Andy Warhol, and Robert Rauschenberg.

The transformational gift comes from the late Richard E. Caves, a Harvard economist and longtime MFA benefactor who died in 2019.

“Though his vocation was economics, Dick’s secret desire was to be a print curator,” Patrick Murphy, associate curator of prints and drawings, said in a statement. “Dick was not just a supporter of the Department of Prints and Drawings, but a true collaborator.”

Eduardo Paolozzi's "As Is When: Wittgenstein in New York," 1965. Bequest of Richard E. Caves/ © Eduardo Paolozzi / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Caves developed several areas of focus during his lifetime of collecting, amassing more than 800 individual works and 125 print portfolios, a particular interest.


Cyril E. Power's "The Tube Staircase," 1929.Bequest of Richard E. Caves/ Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The collection is especially strong in British art, including avant-garde works from the inter-war years by artists such as Cyril Power and Edward Wadsworth, Pop artists such as David Hockney, and contemporary artists such as Damien Hirst.

Cave also concentrated on Minimalism, amassing 10 portfolios by Sol LeWitt, as well as works by Ellsworth Kelly, Frank Stella, and others.

In addition, the collection includes works by well-known artists such as Josef Albers, Helen Frankenthaler, Richard Diebenkorn, Jasper Johns, Chuck Close, Kiki Smith, and the recently deceased Claes Oldenburg.

Caves, who taught at Harvard for four decades, first began donating artworks to the museum in 1978, later offering prints by such luminaries as Gerhard Richter, Lucian Freud, and others.

“Over the past few decades, nearly every exhibition of contemporary prints at the MFA included loans from the Caves Collection,” said Murphy. “It’s a privilege for us to now be caretakers of this remarkable group of prints, and to be able to share them with the public for generations to come.”

Malcolm Gay can be reached at malcolm.gay@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @malcolmgay.