Professor Thomas B. Brumbaugh, 1921-2011

It is with regret that we announce the death of Thomas Brendle Brumbaugh, professor emeritus, on December 18, 2011. He retired in 1985 from a lengthy career teaching art history survey, American art, nineteenth-century art, and Indian art at Vanderbilt, where he received the 1968 Madison Sarratt Prize for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching. His scholarly interests ranged widely, from Ingres to Indian numismatics, and he published many articles on American painting, sculpture, and architecture, including “An Artist and His Model: Abbott H. Thayer and Clara May,” The American Art Journal, vol. 10 (May 1978). He was co-editor of Architecture of Middle Tennessee: The Historic American Buildings Survey and co-author of The Art of Gerald Brockhurst. Many alumni, undergraduate as well as graduate, will recall his erudition, his anecdotes, his kindness, and his humor. His profound influence and love of art led many of his students to pursue teaching careers in art history.

As a youth in Pennsylvania, Brumbaugh began collecting stamps and autographed correspondence. Several public collections have benefited from his collecting, notably the Archives of American Art and the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives, on whose website intern Beatrice Kelly wrote the following:

Thanks to his eagle’s eye for diamonds in the rough that would augment the worth of the collection, Brumbaugh managed to acquire letters from a number of famous figures in the 19th and 20th century American art scene, including Thayer, Widener, George de Forest Brush, Samuel Coleman, and Maria Oakey Dewing…. The Thomas B. Brumbaugh collection of 19th and 20th century American artists’ correspondence doesn’t simply give the researcher a lopsided, art-focused view of those years, it paints a beautiful, multi-dimensioned picture of the time, covering everything from formal commissions for paintings to friendly invitations to dinner; from plain scenes of daily life to heart-wrenching appeals for forgiveness.

A letter from Henry Miller to Brumbaugh, now in Special Collections at the University of Virginia Library, offers a tantalizing glimpse into the way Brumbaugh obtained materials for his collection. Miller sends it in 1943 “as an example of [his] handwriting and asks to be placed in the album near Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Arthur Rimbaud, or Louis-Ferdinand Celine, ‘Not beside an American! (Unless Walt Whitman.)’ Miller says he understands the joy given by such a collection, ‘I have looked with tears in my eyes at the script (under glass) of Hugo, Balzac and others in France. Are you interested at all in the science of graphology? What is it precisely that appeals to you in these items? The marvelous thing would be to know when and where, under what precise circumstances, these pages were written.’

Brumbaugh also enriched the holdings of the Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery. According to Joseph Mella, director of the Gallery, he gave more than 200 paintings, drawings, and prints during his career as an art historian and collector. While his generous gifts often reflected his scholarly interests in such American artists as Thayer and Brockhurst, they also were an indicator of his inquisitive eye that ranged far and wide. Among the works he presented to the Fine Arts Gallery are interesting works by such prominent artists as Isabel Bishop, Honoré Daumier, John Flaxman, John Henry Fuseli, Hendrick Goltzius, Sir Francis Seymour Hayden, Martin Lewis, Roy Lichtenstein, Berthe Morisot, Camille Pissarro, George Romney, Ansei Uchima, and Rembrandt van Rijn. These are works of art the Gallery continually draws on to constitute the basis for many exhibitions today, and for years to come. 

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