Henry Van Ingen

Professor Van Ingen

Professor Van Ingen

Henry Van Ingen, Vassar's first professor of art, was born in Holland on November 12, 1833. Trained at the Academy of Design at The Hague, he specialized in landscape painting. After his arrival in the United States in 1861, Van Ingen taught at the University of Rochester, whose president, Dr. Martin Anderson, was a Vassar trustee. Matthew Vassar was also a trustee of the University of Rochester, and it is likely that Van Ingen joined the first Vassar faculty through these connections.

For a time the only member of the art faculty, Van Ingen was a dedicated and passionate influence on the college. The anonymous author of Letters from Old-Time Vassar, described him as a "burly Dutchman reared within sound of Antwerp chimes- [He] has a homely, kindly face and very approachable manners, but stands no nonsense." Upon his arrival at Vassar, he was placed in charge of the School of Art, a separate entity within the structure of the college (See School of Art & Music). Van Ingen’s yearly reports to the Trustees demonstrate his desire to provide his students with a broadly conceived art education. In 1878, he invited a Professor Corning to deliver the first art history lectures at the college, initiating a series of lectures that moved the department beyond studio exercises toward the inclusion of art history and criticism. In addition to his teaching duties, Van Ingen was in charge of the budding Art Gallery. Working with men such as founding trustee Elias Magoon, Van Ingen pushed not only for a fine collection of oils and works on paper, but also for a fine collection of plaster casts, which he used to teach art history as well as drawing.

Professor Van Ingen and a student in the Hall of Casts

Professor Van Ingen and a student in the Hall of Casts

However, the creation of art still remained the focus of his life. A fascinating letter to a Miss Grant in the Archives includes Van Ingen’s preferred way to teach drawing. Using common white paper and charcoal, he would draw a shape for his students to copy, explaining how it reacted to light and shadow, drawing and hatching all the while. This hands-on, explanatory method differs little from that used in today's studio art classes.

Van Ingen remained at Vassar for the rest of his life, taking occasional college-funded trips back to Europe. His eldest son followed his father in the teaching of art, becoming an instructor at Columbia. Van Ingen and his family lived in a small house near the campus and became integral parts of campus life. When, on 17 November 1898, Van Ingen died of heart problems, his family was permitted to remain in their college-owned house.

The legacy of Van Ingen is still alive at Vassar, in the curriculum and on the campus. In 1935, the Van Ingen Art Library was added onto Taylor Hall, and Van Ingen's fine landscapes remain part of the collection of the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center. A bronze bust of the artist is often on display, along with some of his pieces.

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Letters from Old-Time Vassar: Written by a Student in 1869-1870. (Poughkeepsie: Vassar College, 1915), 17.

Archives File 2.26 – Drawing and Painting Department Reports (1870/71-73/74) (Vassar College Special Collections)

Letter to a Miss Grant from Van Ingen, 26 November n.d. Autograph File of Van Ingen, Henry. (Vassar College Special Collections)

Biographical File of Van Ingen, Henry. Vassar College Special Collections)

MD, 2004