The 1940s were a time when many American private collections were being dispersed, which gave the Museum the opportunity for several major acquisitions.
A new Oriental Wing, including seven galleries devoted to the arts of Persia, China, and India, opened with an Inaugural Exhibition in March of 1940. The Museum hired Carl Zigrosser, Curator of Prints and Drawings, the following year, and collecting proceeded with a more professional focus on modeling the department upon the great encyclopedic print cabinets of Europe.
In the first half of the decade, the United States was fully involved in World War II, the impact of which was not lost on the Museum. The "loss of employees to war services and war industries" forced the Museum to keep some galleries open only on alternate days. At a 1942 meeting of the American Association of Museums, however, Far East Curator Horace H. F. Jayne emphasized the importance of art in disastrous times, saying, "even though some of us shall be called upon to carry on more immediate, more forthright tasks of war, let us never forget to hand on our charge to others so that all may ever enjoy the privilege of seeing these true proofs of man’s belief in liberty of the spirit [works of art]."
Despite the war, by March 1942, there were 145 galleries in use and the Museum’s Division of Education was flourishing with free children’s classes, lectures, films, and special educationally-themed exhibitions. The collections, too, continued to grow. In 1943 the great drawing room from Lansdowne House, London, designed in the Neoclassical style by Robert Adam and acquired by the Museum 12 years earlier, was installed. That year the extraordinary John D. McIlhenny Collection, with particularly strong holdings of Oriental carpets, was also transferred to the Museum following the death of his widow. An Inaugural Exhibition was held early in 1944.
In 1945 the Museum acquired the second George Grey Barnard Collection of notable medieval architecture and sculpture (the first collection forms the basis of “The Cloisters” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art). The holdings include Recumbent Knight, as well as several examples of 12th-century Romanesque Capitals from the Cloister of the Monastery of Saint-Rémi. Under the sponsorship of the Philadelphia Fashion Group, the Museum’s first Costume Galleries opened in 1947. An exhibition titled A Pageant of Fashion included American, French, and Italian costume spanning the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries.
When R. Sturgis Ingersoll took over as President of the Museum in 1948, he set out to greatly increase membership (which then stood at only approximately 1900 people) by urging each existing member to ask two or three others to also become members. For a fee of $10, the benefits of membership included a subscription to the Museum Bulletin, invitations to all membership openings, and "above all, a consciousness of playing a part in the operation and development of our great Museum." At this time, 50 galleries still remained unfinished, but considerable progress had been made and the collections continued to grow. In fact, two new areas of collecting were introduced at the end of the decade. The first, the Ars Medica Collection of art with a medical subject matter, was created in 1949 with the first of a continuing series of grants given by the Philadelphia pharmaceutical firm of Smith, Kline, and French. The collection offers a remarkable view of the complex interrelationships between the worlds of medicine, pharmacy, public health, and the visual arts. At about the same time, the Museum received 69 photographs by Alfred Stieglitz from the artist’s own collection.
1940: Life in Philadelphia, Inaugural Exhibition of Oriental Wing
1942: The Christian Brinton Collection (among the first of the Museum’s great modern art collections); Russian Graphic Arts
1943: Mexican Art Today
1944: Eakins Centennial
1945: Artists of The Philadelphia Press
1946: Japanese Prints
1947: A Pageant of Fashion
1949: Third Sculpture International; Faces and Fashions; Masterpieces in America, 100 Paintings – 100 Drawings
Major Gifts and Acquisitions
1940: Mrs. Hamilton Rice bequests the Louis XVI Room to the Museum
1943: The John D. McIlhenny Collection of Oriental carpets; the A.E. Gallatin Collection
1944: The Crozier Collection of Ceramics and Rock Crystals
1945: Charles Willson Peale's Staircase Group; The George Grey Barnard Collection
1949: The Ars Medica Collection begun by Smith, Kline, and French; The Alfred Stieglitz gifts