Andrew W. Robison, curator of the National Gallery of Art's current "Six Centuries/Six Artists" exhibit, is not your usual art historian curator.
Dr. Robison came to the Gallery in 1974 as curator and head of the Department of Prints and Drawings. In 1991, the Gallery honored him with the position of Andrew W. Mellon senior curator. Robison came to the graphic arts as an art collector, and says, "I've never had an art history course in my life."
He entered Princeton University in 1958 as a chemistry major ("We were the Sputnik generation," he says), but he switched to philosophy and religion in his sophomore year. Later, as a Marshall scholar at Oxford University, he pursued his primary interests of philosophy, theology, and Hinduism. He studied Hinduism as, what he calls, "a great example of a non-Western religion."
A 1965-1966 Fulbright Fellowship took Robison to Benares and Madras in India, where he did independent research on classical Indian philosophy. He also had the opportunity to collect Indian bronzes.
Back at Princeton, Robison earned a PhD and also began collecting prints and drawings. He had always been interested in art and had learned about it by going to great museums. But, he says, "It never occurred to me to collect, coming from a middle-class family."
"My breakthrough occurred," he recalls, "when I saw a catalog from a dealer of Rembrandt prints, with 'The Stoning of St. Stephen' for $600. I was too late to get that one, but it got me started."
He says he studied intensively and began collecting slowly, first as a print generalist, then as a collector of mainly Piranesi, Goya, and Picasso prints. He began to teach the history of graphic art, first at the Princeton Adult School, then at the University of Illinois.
But when the National Gallery approached him in 1973 to head the Department of Prints and Drawings, and to "build a great collection of drawings and prints like the great collections of Europe, I came, and never looked back."