The exceptional breadth and depth of the Museum’s holdings are due in large part to the generosity of its donors and their commitment to this institution and its visitors. Here are a few figures whose contributions have enriched the collection.
Robert L. McNeil, Jr.’s passion as a collector was matched by his generosity as a patron. Much of his collection of American decorative arts, paintings, prints, and drawings now enhances the Museum’s holdings. A longtime trustee, Mr. McNeil was keenly aware of the importance of providing intellectual scrutiny and cultural context for the collection. As such, he underwrote catalogues about American silver, presidential china, and the art of the Peale family. His endowment of five curatorial positions and his match of a Lenfest Challenge for a sixth secured the professional expertise of the Department of American Art. The position of Associate Curator of American Modern and Contemporary Crafts and Decorative Arts honors his wife, Nancy M. McNeil, a collector of American craft, the cofounder of the Museum’s annual Craft Show, and a longtime member of The Women’s Committee. Mr. McNeil’s endowment of the Center for American Art supports outreach and collaboration with arts and cultural communities. The Barra Foundation Fellowship, created in his honor by the trustees of Mr. McNeil’s Barra Foundation, provides graduate students with development opportunities. The McNeil Americana Collection >> Gifts of Nancy M. McNeil >>
Comprising more than 100 works made after 1950, the Keith L. and Katherine Sachs Collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art is among the most important holdings of contemporary art in the US. In 2014, 97 of these objects were offered to the Museum, representing a transformative gift to the institution. These works both complement and supplement the Museum’s holdings of contemporary art, a testimony to Mr. and Mrs. Sachs’s affection for the institution and its collection. For more than forty years, the couple has nurtured relationships with many of the artists they admire, resulting in rich selections of works by Jasper Johns and Ellsworth Kelly. The Sachs Collection also encompasses important examples by major postwar artists including Richard Hamilton, Gerhard Richter, and Brice Marden. Video art is a particular strength of the collection, with examples by Francis Alÿs, Pierre Huyghe, and Steve McQueen. Large-scale photography, including works by Candida Höfer, Andreas Gursky, and Jeff Wall, also is well represented. The Keith L. and Katherine Sachs Collection >> Embracing the Contemporary: The Keith L. and Katherine Sachs Collection >>
For the last three decades, Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz have assembled one of the finest private holdings of American “outsider art,” or work by self-taught artists. In 2011 they made a promised gift to the Museum of nearly two hundred works from their impressive collection, which features celebrated artists Martín Ramírez, James Castle, and Bill Traylor as well as relatively little-known figures such as Jon Serl and Simon Sparrow. This transformative gift launched the Museum into the top ranks of US institutions that pursue this inventive, sometimes idiosyncratic material. It is a splendid contribution to the institution’s distinguished holdings of modern and contemporary art. In addition to outsider art, Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz have presented fine examples of kanthas and phulkaris, lively embroidered textiles from Bengal and the Punjab region of India and Pakistan as gifts and promised gifts to the Museum. The Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz Collection >> “Great and Mighty Things”: Outsider Art from the Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz Collection >> Kantha: The Embroidered Quilts of Bengal from the Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz and the Stella Kramrisch Collections >>
The core of the Museum’s holdings of arms and armor was acquired in 1977 with the bequest from New York businessman Carl Otto Kretzschmar von Kienbusch of his private collection, long regarded as the finest in existence. Assembled from about 1914 to his death, the Kienbusch Collection comprises approximately 1,200 objects, primarily of European origin and dating from the fourteenth to the eighteenth century, for use in battles, ceremonies, tournaments, or hunting. It features complete armors, equestrian equipment, helmets and other armor elements, and weapons. Most objects in the Kienbusch Collection can be traced to the ancestral armories of European rulers and noblemen, or the arsenals of provinces and municipalities; and to the private collections of prominent nineteenth- and twentieth-century American and European collectors. At the heart of Kienbusch’s collecting endeavors was his intent to assemble a representative selection of some of the best expressions of armor as an art form. The Carl Otto Kretzschmar von Kienbusch Collection >>
The strength of the Museum’s collection of Chinese art, particularly in ceramics, is due in part to a remarkable gift from Alfred and Margaret Caspary. A successful New York stockbroker and a renowned stamp collector, Caspary followed a unique path to collecting Chinese art. His interest in Chinese ceramics may have grown from his acquaintance with John D. Rockefeller Jr, then a leading collector of Chinese porcelains. In 1939 Caspary purchased more than 400 Chinese porcelains, primarily made during the reign of the Kangxi emperor (1662–1722), from the estate of Glasgow shipping magnate Leonard Gow. The collection—including a striking vase formerly in the treasury of Augustus the Strong of Saxony—was put into storage, where it remained until Caspary’s death in 1955, when it was given to the Museum. Asked why he had purchased the porcelains, Caspary explained that while he could make more money, he could not guarantee an opportunity such as the sale of Gow’s collection would present itself again—a happy circumstance from which the Museum and its visitors have benefited greatly. The Alfred and Margaret Caspary Collection >>
Donated to the Museum in 1952, Albert E. Gallatin’s gift helped build the foundation of what is one of the most important collections of modern art in the world. In the 1920s Gallatin was a frequent visitor to the Paris studios of Georges Braque, Fernand Léger, and Pablo Picasso. One of only a handful of American collectors of vanguard European art, Gallatin opened his Gallery of Living Art at New York University in 1927. Announced as the first public collection devoted to contemporary art, it was a beacon for American artists, including Jackson Pollock and Philip Guston. Highlights of Gallatin’s collection include Fernand Léger’s The City and Picasso’s Three Musicians and Glass of Absinthe, one of the artist’s extraordinarily rare early sculptures. When NYU terminated its lease of Gallatin’s gallery space in 1942, Museum Director Fiske Kimball persuaded him to loan his works to Philadelphia. The more than 160 objects later entered the Museum’s collection after Gallatin’s death in 1952. The A. E. Gallatin Collection >> "A Severe Selection": Modern Art on Paper from the A. E. Gallatin Collection >>
Louise and Walter Arensberg’s extraordinary gift to the Museum in 1950, together with that of A. E. Gallatin, forms the cornerstone of the institution’s modern art collection. Their path to becoming collectors was set in 1913 after a visit to the legendary Armory Show in New York, where they encountered Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2), a painting they would later acquire. In 1915 they eagerly opened their home to Duchamp, inaugurating a forty-year friendship and collaboration between the artist and the collectors. Throughout their collecting career, the Arensbergs purchased works by Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Salvador Dalí, Marc Chagall, and Vasily Kandinsky, among others, and assembled the largest collection of Constantin Brancusi’s sculpture outside Paris. Their interests extended beyond Western art, and their holdings of pre-Columbian art were displayed alongside contemporary works. Above all, the couple amassed the foremost collection of Duchamp’s work in the world, making the Museum a place of pilgrimage for generations of artists and art lovers. The Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection >>
Stella Kramrisch was the Museum’s longtime curator of Indian art and among the twentieth century’s most significant historians of the art and architecture of the Indian subcontinent. She came to Philadelphia in 1950, soon after her personal collection of eighth- to twelfth-century Indian temple sculpture went on display at the Museum. This collection, which the Museum acquired in 1956, remains the most significant of its type, for both its historical importance and its quality, in any American museum. As a curator, Kramrisch made many major acquisitions as well as created special exhibitions that introduced entire realms of Indian art to the American public. On her death, she left more than seven hundred objects to the Museum, including spectacular paintings and sculptures from India, Tibet, Nepal, and Bangladesh. Through her transformative gifts and acquisitions, and through her rich scholarship, she opened new spheres of art to the Museum’s visitors and to the world. The Stella Kramrisch Collection >> Kantha: The Embroidered Quilts of Bengal from the Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz and the Stella Kramrisch Collections >> Threads of Cotton, Threads of Brass: Arts of Eastern India and Bangladesh from the Kramrisch Collection >>
Susan Macdowell Eakins, 1900s, by Thomas Eakins.
Courtesy of Bryn Mawr College Art and Artifact Collections
Courtesy of Bryn Mawr College Art and Artifact Collections
A large body of works by Thomas Eakins was donated in 1929 and 1930 by his widow, Susan Macdowell Eakins, and their friend Mary A. Williams. Philadelphia’s greatest artist, Thomas Eakins spent his lifetime painting the people and landscapes of his native city. Sometimes unsparing and occasionally shocking, as in his monumental portrait of Dr. Samuel D. Gross, Eakins’s paintings of modern American life earned a reputation for blunt realism and psychological insight. Although his career was marred by scandal, mostly related to his use of nude models and his own obstinate behavior, Eakins lived to see his work hailed as definitively American. After the artist’s death, Susan Macdowell Eakins began conversations with Museum Director Fiske Kimball to create a memorial gallery in the institution’s new building on Fairmount. Her and Williams’s many gifts to the Museum established the most important collection of Thomas Eakins’s paintings, drawings, sculptures, and photographs in the world. The Thomas Eakins Collection >> Eakins on Paper: Drawings and Watercolors from the Collection >> Thomas Eakins: American Realist >> Thomas Eakins: Artist of Philadelphia >>
Esteemed lawyer John G. Johnson bequeathed his extraordinary collection of nearly 1,200 paintings to the City of Philadelphia upon his death in 1917. In 1933 the Museum was asked to take responsibility for its care and display. Renowned for its holdings of old master pictures by artists such as Antonello da Messina, Sandro Botticelli, Pietro Lorenzetti, and Pinturicchio, the Johnson Collection also features major examples by nineteenth-century French artists Gustave Courbet, Camille Pissarro, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, and Édouard Manet. Dutch art, primarily of the Golden Age, is also well represented, including works by Rembrandt, Pieter Jansz. Saenredam, Jan Steen, and Jacob Issacksz. van Ruisdael. Johnson’s interest in early Netherlandish art led him to, arguably, his greatest gathering of masterpieces, such as Robert Campin’s exquisite Christ and the Virgin, Jan van Eyck’s meticulous Saint Francis of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata, and Rogier van der Weyden’s moving Crucifixion, with the Virgin and Saint John the Evangelist Mourning. The John G. Johnson Collection >> Willem Kalf and the Sumptuous Still Life in the John G. Johnson Collection >> David Teniers’s Theatrum Pictorium and the John G. Johnson Collection >> Renaissance Lombardy in the John G. Johnson Collection >> Bosch and Bruegel in the John G. Johnson Collection >> John G. Johnson (1841-1917): A Celebration of 150 Years >> John G. Johnson: Collector of Contemporary Art >>