The extraordinary quality and range of the drawings collection at the Cleveland Museum of Art place it among the top five or six in the United States.
The collection includes about 2,800 sheets, divided almost evenly between European and American schools, with about 600 drawings by artists working in Cleveland. Its greatest strengths are in its holdings of key works by Italian artists of the 16th century, French artists of the 18th and 19th centuries, and European and American artists of the early 20th century. It includes a group of extraordinary pastels by artists who excelled in the medium, including Jean Etienne Liotard, Rosalba Carriera, Edgar Degas, and Mary Cassatt.
The museum began collecting drawings with its first gift in 1915, a year before the museum opened its doors to the public. Henry Sayles Francis, one of the museum's most influential and long-serving curators, guided the formation of a notable collection of old master drawings, making sizable purchases of French drawings in 1927 and Italian and Dutch drawings in 1929. Subsequently, the museum's collection of drawings has been supplemented by acquisitions from dealers and by gifts of individual collectors. Today, the museum continues to acquire old master, 19th century, modern, and contemporary drawings.