Plaster Cast Collection

G.W.V. Smith Art Museum

Purchased in Europe and America, the Museum’s collection of 48 plaster casts of Classical and Renaissance masterpieces are of high quality, made from molds taken directly from the originals. Examples of the classical collection include the DiscobolusLaocoönEleusian Relief and the Venus of Melos. The Renaissance casts include works by Michelangelo, della Robbia, Verrocchio and Giovanni da Bologna. In Victorian America’s art museums, casts provided what was for most visitors the only contact with ancient sculpture. Because early sculpture masterpieces were not readily available, most major museums displayed casts in the second half of the 19th century. The casts remained on exhibit for several decades but were eventually placed in storage, a common fate of nearly all American museums’ casts. In 1978, recognizing the importance of casts to Victorian museums, the museum restored each piece and reinstalled all but two in their original setting. Today, the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum is one of few museums which permanently displays plaster casts. It is the most complete collection of Classical and Renaissance sculpture in Western Massachusetts. The casts were purchased with funds from the estate of Horace Smith, one of the co-founders of Smith & Wesson and no relation to George Walter Vincent Smith. The gift also provided funds to refurbish a gallery to display the collection. H.W. Kent of the Slater Memorial Museum in Norwich, Connecticut, was enlisted to select and purchase the casts and to arrange them in the gallery under the supervision of Edward Robinson of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The plaster cast gallery opened to the public in July 1899. The casts provided the inspiration for the development of the museum art school. In 1918, 22 years after the museum opened to the public, several boys asked for permission to sketch the sculptures. The curator enthusiastically gave her approval, and the boys began to sketch each weekend. The museum’s art class program grew from this informal beginning.