University of Michigan Museum of Art Receives Collection Including Works by Klimt, Schiele, Kokoschka

ANN ARBOR, Mich.,– The University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA) has received a gift of more than 40 drawings, watercolors and prints by sought after avant-garde artists of the 20th century from retired U-M professors Ernst Pulgram and his wife, Frances McSparran. Pulgram built one of the most personal and exhilarating private collections of Austrian and German Expressionist art and, before his death in 2005, shared his wish for this remarkable group of works to remain at Michigan.

“It would be difficult to overstate Ernst Pulgram’s generosity, sagacity and cultural literacy,” said UMMA Director James Steward. “We are grateful to him and to Frances for what is a priceless and transformative gift to the Museum of Art.”

Among the 15 artists represented in the gift are Otto Dix, George Grosz, Erich Heckel, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka, Emil Nolde, Christian Rohlfs and Egon Schiele.

As psychological documents of their time, these drawings, watercolors and prints were considered completed works of art, not preparatory studies. The responsive properties of the media-stylus on paper or plate-allowed the artists a level of immediacy that resulted in works that are extraordinarily intimate and incisive records of a European society in decline-decadent, disenchanted and spiritually bereft. The edgy, angular quality of line and figural distortion combined to create emotionally unsettling compositions that the Nazis branded as degenerate.

Works by Klimt and Schiele, in particular, have risen dramatically in market significance over the last decade. A 1910 Schiele drawing sold at auction for $5.7 million in February; Klimt’s iconic 1907 portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer was acquired for $135 million in 2006 and now hangs in New York’s Neue Galerie.

Born in Vienna in 1915, Ernst Pulgram arrived in the U.S. in 1939 and began teaching at U-M shortly thereafter. He started to collect in the early 1960s and was drawn to the artists and imagery that reminded him of home-the post-World War I era of the Viennese Secession.

The Pulgram-McSparran collection complements UMMA’s significant holdings in European art of the period. The Museum plans to showcase the collection when it reopens its $41.9 million expansion and restoration in early 2009.

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