Frank Raysor’s Promised Gift to VMFA Represents a Life Dedicated to Collecting and Researching Art

Image of Frank RaysorFrank Raysor, in 2011 when he was named Collector of the Year by VMFA

Frank Raysor spent decades scouring flea markets, art auctions, and estate sales in New York City to acquire his collection of prints. In the process he accumulated what is the fifth largest collection of prints by 17th-century artist Wenceslaus Hollar in the world and the largest collection of that artist’s works in the United States. More than 200 works are featured in VMFA’s exhibition Hollar’s Encyclopedic Eye: Prints from the Frank Raysor Collection.

Raysor, who grew up in Richmond, was an executive at Seagrams in New York City for many years before retiring and returning to Central Virginia. It was during his years in New York that he built most of his collection of some 10,000 prints—which also includes works by Félix Bracquemond, Charles Meryon, Albrecht Dürer, Rembrandt, Henri Matisse, Mary Cassatt, Winslow Homer, among others. In 2011, Raysor promised to donate his collection to VMFA.

Prague, Wencelaus HollarPrague, Wencelaus Hollar (Bohemian, 1607–1677), etching printed in blank ink on laid paper. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Promised Gift of Frank Raysor

In addition to collecting prints, Raysor amassed his own print reference library. This was before the internet, Raysor notes, and he used these books to guide his purchases. He remembers spending many Saturday afternoons in used book stores on 4th Avenue in Manhattan and going home with two shopping bags full of books on art. When visiting other cities, he would find the used book stores there and “buy every book on prints and printmaking.” While studying those books, Raysor noticed that the name Hollar kept coming up.

He eventually acquired Jay Perched on a Twig, his first Hollar print. “After that,” he says, “I was hooked.” As he bought more prints by Hollar, he would often find better examples. “I upgraded in quality and/or condition whenever possible,” he says, “with the result that frequently there are duplicates.”

Works by Hollar represent nearly a quarter of Raysor’s collection. Other repositories of prints by the Bohemian artist include the National Gallery Collection of Prints and Drawings in Prague, the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle in England, and the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto.

Elephant and Flowers, 1663, Wenceslaus HollarElephant and Flowers, 1663, Wenceslaus Hollar (Bohemian, 1607–1677), etching printed in black ink on laid paper. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Promised gift of Frank Raysor

Since 2011, VMFA has offered several exhibitions that feature works from Raysor’s collection, including A Celebration of Print: 500 Years of Graphic Art from the Frank Raysor Collection; Remnants and Revivals: Architectural Etchings by Charles Meryon and John Taylor Arms; Nightfall: Prints of the Dark Hours; and Steinlen: Cats. Hollar’s Encyclopedic Eye is the latest VMFA exhibition of prints from Raysor’s collection.

Also in Richmond, another exhibition of Baroque-era prints can be found at the University of Richmond’s Harnett Museum where The Printed World: Masterpieces of Seventeenth-Century Printmaking also features works by Hollar and other artists from the Frank Raysor Collection, on view at U of R February 3 through March 24.

Hollar’s Encyclopedic Eye, a free exhibition, is on view at VMFA from February 2 through May 5. VMFA is open 365 days a year, 10 am–5 pm, and until 9 pm Thursdays and Fridays.