The Davison Art Center collection consists chiefly of some 24,000 works of art on paper, mostly original prints and photographs, with smaller numbers of works in other media. Information about these objects is searchable by students, faculty, researchers, and the public via DAC Collection Search, which is now online in a bare-bones early form with frequent improvements under way.
The heart of the print collection was given to Wesleyan in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s by Harriet B. and George W. Davison (B.A. Wesleyan 1892), after whom the Davison Art Center is named. In 1952, the DAC was built to house the collection in an addition to the historic Alsop House. The collection continues to grow. In an average year, several hundred works (accepted if they serve the DAC's educational mission) are given to the museum and others are acquired by purchase; most purchases are made with funds raised by the Friends of the Davison Art Center.
The Davison Art Center's print collection is considered to be one of the two or three most important at an American university. It includes fine impressions of works by Dürer and Northern and Italian Renaissance artists; Rembrandt and his contemporaries; Goya; nineteenth-century French painter-printmakers such as Manet and Millet; and American modern and contemporary artists, especially Jim Dine. The collection includes multiple states of many prints, providing a historical window into printmaking techniques and artists' creative processes. There are also about 600 Japanese ukiyo-e woodcuts and strong holdings illuminating the early histories of mezzotint and lithography. The DAC also has a Print Reference Library with several thousand volumes of reference works used in close conjunction with teaching and learning from the print collection.
- Old Master European prints
- 17th- to 18th-century European prints
- 19th- to 20th-century European prints
- American prints
- Japanese prints
The DAC's photographs range from calotypes and daguerreotypes made in the 1840s, to work by later photographers such as Lewis Hine and Berenice Abbott, to images by contemporary artists including Duane Michals and Cindy Sherman.
The DAC's several hundred drawings range from small sketches to large contemporary works. Among the other American artists represented are Whistler, Sargent, Kihn, Davis, Dine, and Jacquette. European drawings include works by French artists, especially printmakers, including Boitard, Jacque, Millet, Bracquemond, Buhot, Lalanne, Legros, and Braque; British draughtsmen inlcuding Gainsborough, Chinnery, Wilkie, Palmer, McBey, and Bone; and several works by German, Dutch, and Hungarian artists.
The DAC collection consists primarily of works of art on paper, but it also includes a small number of paintings. American paintings include 19th- and 20th-century works by artists such as Samuel L. Waldo, Alfred Thompson Bricher, Elihu Vedder, Thomas Buchanan Read, Charles Sheeler, Kay Sage, and Alice Neel. European paintings include The Chess Players by Jean-Léon Gérôme and landscapes by Jules Dupré, Eugène Fromentin, and Jean-Charles Cazin, as well as Corner in the Artist's Studio by Ernest Meissonier. Other European paintings include Landscape with Woman Milking a Cow and a Shepherd, an oil on circular board by David Teniers the Younger, and an anonymous English oil of Lime Kiln in the Woods, ca. 1800-1810.
The DAC has a small number of three-dimensional objects, including a Bôite-en-Valise by Marcel Duchamp and Black Zag Z, 1969, a 41-by-56-inch wall sculpture by Louise Nevelson. The collection also includes contemporary artists' books such as Les Aventures des Cannibales Modernistes, an accordion book printed with lithography and woodcut by Enrique Chagoya; Kara Walker's Freedom: A Fable, a pop-up silhouette book; Jim Dine's The Temple of Flora and Glyptotek; The Book of Revelation produced by Robin Price and Barbara Benish; and Pat Oleszko's Glove Story.