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Top: “Breton Women at a Wall,” Emile Bernard, Bottom: “Christmas Night (The Blessing of the Oxen),” Paul Gauguin
It was an important insight, and Josefowitz shared it not only by lending and donating many works from the Pont-Aven painters to museums, but also by organizing exhibitions of their works, and collaborating on their catalogues and on a book about the graphic works of these artists, titled The Prints of the Pont-Aven School: Gauguin and His Circle in Brittany.

The village of Pont-Aven returned the favor by making Josefowitz its first honorary citizen.

By 1980, Josefowitz was finding life as a cultural entrepreneur less satisfying than life as an art collector. His business had “simply grown too large to be much fun to me anymore,” he says. “Most of my time was taken up by financial planning, labor relations, the laws in various countries and not the creative part which I enjoyed the most.” He consulted his family and the other shareholders, and they agreed to sell the business, leaving Josefowitz free to pursue his interests in art.

Those interests include primitive art, classical antiquities, old masters, and 19th century graphics, as well as Post-Impressionist paintings that were not part of the Pont-Aven school. However, it is his Pont-Aven works that so far have had the greatest influence on museum curators and by extension, the public.

Josefowitz developed a particularly good relationship with senior curator Ellen Lee at the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA), which already had a fine collection of Neo-Impressionists. When the museum inquired about acquiring some paintings from him, Josefowitz and his children decided it would be best to have a permanent home for a good part of his Pont-Aven collection. In 1998, he sold 17 paintings to the museum “at an advantageous price” and donated an entire collection of 84 prints by Gauguin and his circle in Pont-Aven to the museum.

“It was nothing short of a landmark acquisition for the IMA,” says Lee. “We went from having no representation from the Pont-Aven school, to having the best public collection outside of Paris. The acquisition brought us international attention, because of the quality of work and because of Sam’s renown as a collector.”

This year, Josefowitz added strength to strength by allowing the museum to acquire another 11 prints by Paul Gauguin known as the “Volpini Suite.”

Lee points out that Josefowitz has been particulary astute in his collection of prints. “In the museum world, the highest praise you can pay to a curator is to say he or she has ‘a good eye.’ Well, Sam’s got a great eye,” she says.

“In the museum world, the highest praise you can pay to a curator is to say he or she has ‘a good eye.’ Well, Sam’s got a great eye.”

Senior Curator, Indianapolis Museum of Art
“A print doesn’t have the immediate impact of a painting, but it’s a more intimate medium for the artist as well as the collector,” says Josefowitz. “I am fascinated not only by the artistic end, but also by the technique and the beauty of the impression. In the 19th century, the prints were printed by the artists themselves. This is like listening to a Beethoven sonata interpreted by Rubinstein—a very different experience from hearing the same piece of music by a lesser musician.”He adds, “The process of making a print—drypoint, etching, mezzotint, engraving, or lithograph—is really fairly complex. There is a different effect if you use zinc or copper as the matrix, different inks and their application, different papers, etc. It is an art enjoyed by studying it, a mixture of chemistry and art.”

In that, prints are a bit like Samuel Josefowitz himself, also an unusual mixture of interests and abilities that allowed him to excel in almost any endeavor, whether science, business, music, publishing, or art.

And 71 years after first arriving at Rensselaer as a teenager with an imperfect command of English, Josefowitz is still exploring new worlds with the same life-affirming curiosity.

He is currently interested in taking on one of the great problems in alternative energy production—the cost of bringing electricity generated in remote places to the power grid. Josefowitz is working with Rensselaer to determine whether solar or wind energy could be used in deserts, to pump and purify subterranean water for small agricultural oases.

“It’s just a rough idea,” he says. “But it’s very exciting in my old age to be involved in something like this.”

Paintings courtesy of the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

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Rensselaer (ISSN 0898-1442) is published in Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter by the Office of Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY 12180-3590. Opinions expressed in these pages do not necessarily reflect the views of the editors or the policies of the Institute. ©2009 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.